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Residents berate board over lack of action on turbine law

More than 50 residents packed the Penn Forest Township Board of Supervisors meeting Monday night to express frustration and at times anger over the delay in adopting a new wind turbine provision.

Township resident Marcus Lawrence, an outspoken opponent of Atlantic Wind’s proposal to construct industrial wind turbines on property belonging to the Bethlehem Water Authority in the township.

Shortly after the first application for a special exception permit was submitted to the zoning hearing board, Lawrence presented a revised ordinance to the supervisors for consideration.

“That was 18 months ago,” Lawrence reminded the supervisors. “For 18 months I have been asking to change this ordinance. You have sat on this since Dec. 5.”

Lawrence knew it would not apply to the first proposal. “But now they have come along with a second application while the first is tied up in court and still we have no change. And they will file one after another if we don’t act.”

Atlantic Wind has two permits pending for the project. The first is for up to 37 turbines, which was deemed approved after the hearing board missed a crucial date in rescheduling a public hearing. That permit is tied up in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas. No action is expected before the end of this year.

The second application is for 28 larger turbines and is currently the subject of a series of public hearings before the zoning hearing board. The next hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 22 at the Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.

“This ordinance was made when turbines were 200 maybe 300 feet,” said Lawrence. “They are now talking about 600 feet. These are clearly incompatible with a residential district.”

Resident Jack Englehart said people are worried about their property values, health and public safety.

“This community has raised over $100,000 to pay legal fees to fight these wind turbines,” Englehart said. “That’s $100,000 out of your community. That’s money that we are not donating to the library or for sports uniforms for the school kids. That money would otherwise go into our community.”

Englehart added that they are looking at another $70,000 in legal fees for this year.

“Who do we hold accountable for this,” asked Judy Salvi. “You, the zoning hearing board, the attorney? You should all be gone. We want them gone. Nobody here trusts you, we have no trust.”

Township solicitor Thomas Nanovic said the supervisors are committed to making a change to the ordinance, and that a consultant, Charlie Schmehl has been retained to revise the ordinance.

A public meeting was held earlier this year to discuss Schmehl’s first draft, which didn’t meet approval from Lawrence and other residents.

“That was a welcome mat for wind turbines,” said resident Bill Mauro. “What you need to know is that we are not engineers, but we have taken the time to educate ourselves. If you had taken the time you would never have released that ordinance.”

“If you want to re-earn our trust, you are going to have to work a lot harder.”

Nanovic said the township has hired consulting engineer Richard B. Kresge to advise it on wind turbines. Nanovic says he met on April 12 with both Kresge and Schmehl to discuss the revised ordinance further.

“I admit we could have acted more swiftly on this,” Nanovic said. “We are addressing the concerns of the residents. But we have to be careful and do it in a careful way that makes sense.”

Lawrence suggested amending the ordinance involving wind turbines for the R-1 zoning district, which currently allows a special exception.

“The permitted use in the R-1 Zoning District should be changed to N, Not Permitted. Industrial Wind Turbine projects are not compatible with the definition of the R-1 district.”

“You could accept this and approve advertising tonight,” Lawrence said. “Wind turbines are just not compatible with residential developments.”