Ogle Township supervisors spent the past four months reading through stacks of documents provided by a group of township landowners working to convince the board to bolster a local law that regulates wind farms.
But in the end, supervisors said they didn’t find a single, supportable reason to amend their law.
Board members decided against changing their 2007 windmill regulations at their meeting Monday. In a 3-0 vote, supervisors declined the residents’ petition pressing for greater setbacks.
They then spent 15 minutes defending the move in a back-and-forth exchange with Joseph Cominsky, an outspoken Shaffer Mountain wind farm critic.
“The way I see it, our ordinance is fine the way it is,” supervisors Chairman Harvey Weyandt Jr. said, blaming “misinformation” about windmills for creating a stir in the municipality. “If we change our ordinance, the residents who do want to see (the project occur) won’t be able to.”
Cominsky and two other meeting attendees criticized the board for the move, accusing the township of selling out to the wind industry.
Cominsky, a Paint Township resident who owns land on Shaffer Mountain, pointed to the fact that the township’s ordinance requires developers to pay the municipality a yearly fee of $1,500 per megawatt.
Fred Paulovich, a Windber man who also owns Ogle Township land, cited safety as his concern. He worried that current setbacks wouldn’t protect residents or a passing car from being struck by ice that can accumulate and get thrown from spinning blades in the winter.
But Weyandt said the area eyed for windmills is a wooded, remote area even by the township’s standards – far removed from full-time residences and more than 2 miles from Ogletown.
And the township’s windmill guidelines give it the leverage to negotiate with wind companies planning an Ogle wind farm, he said after the meeting. The board could require the company to shut down turbines near roads if temperatures dipped to a certain point in the winter, he said.
Weyandt did not debate that other townships have stricter setbacks than Ogle.
“But those are more populated towns. These companies are looking at a place that no one’s ever going to develop,” he said of the vast Berwind property beyond Mount Carmel Drive.
Ogle Township requires turbines to be installed no closer than twice the height of a turbine’s hub, likely 600 feet or more, from the nearest non-participating property owner. A windmill cannot be any closer than five times the turbine’s hub height from a building foundation.
Weyandt said the board relied on the state Association of Townships’ recommendations when drafting its original law and modified it to fit its community.
And many other communities have adopted the same per-megawatt fee, board members noted.
“We put a lot of work into that,” Supervisor Dan Sklinar added.
The ordinance requires companies planning a wind farm in the township to file a formal application that lists where turbines would be placed, the size of the farm and access points, among other details. A public meeting is required, and the company would be expected to attend, giving the township and developers a chance to work through local concerns before approval would be granted, Weyandt said.
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