Penn Forest Township resident Philip C. Malitsch is a professional civil engineer with Hanover Engineering, but he also happens to live within roughly 2,700 feet of a proposed wind turbine. Malitsch was called to testify before the Penn Forest zoning hearing board on Monday evening.
Attorney Edward Greene, counsel for Atlantic Wind, argued that Malitsch could not testify as an expert witness in the case since Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence prohibit anyone who has a financial interest in a matter from testifying as an expert in the same matter.
“They are going to call a witness to testify that wind turbines reduce property values,” Greene said. “Since Mr. Malitsch stands to be impacted financially, he cannot testify as an expert.”
An argument ensued between Greene and opposition attorney Bruce Anders. Anders said that Greene does not know who he is intending to call as a witness, inferring that the two sides have not shared a list of proposed witnesses or experts who will be called to testify.
The argument centered on the theory that the presence of the wind turbines would lower property values.
Greene argued that in the prior set of hearings, Anders had called on an expert appraiser to testify to an up to 40 percent decrease in property values.
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” Anders said. “Every time we have brought up the previous application you have objected.”
In the end, hearing board solicitor Michael Greek allowed Malitsch to be accepted as an expert and to testify, saying that the board would take both arguments into consideration while reviewing the testimony before rendering its decision.
Malitsch testified to a number of issues regarding the application of Atlantic Wind. One of the more significant points that Malitsch made was that in its application, Atlantic Wind failed to include one of the tax parcels it intends to build on. As a result, the tax parcel, 38-51-A4, was never made a part of the legal advertisement required for the application to be complete.
There are seven turbines proposed on the parcel.
Malitsch also pointed out that on four of the parcels in the R2 district where Atlantic Wind is asking for approval, the wind turbines would not be allowed because there is already a primary use of “utility” on the parcels and only one use is permitted.
On a second set of four parcels in an area where turbines are not permitted as a use, Atlantic Wind is looking to put turbine support features, such as meteorological towers or access roads. Malitsch said these would not be permitted uses in his professional opinion.
Another area that Malitsch zeroed in on was the number of documents in which the Bethlehem Water Authority, the owner of the land proposed to be used for the wind turbines, has identified the use of all of the lands owned in the watershed as being for the “production of potable water.”
The Penn Forest zoning ordinance permits only one principal use on property.
Also discussed were a number of letters from the authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in opposition of the PennEast pipeline project which would transect parts of its property.
Malitsch read from letters that requested FERC require PennEast to move the project off the property to protect the natural resources and the headwaters.
On June 5 the hearing board had heard the testimony of Pamela C. Dodd Ph.D., a hydrogeologist who testified that the wind turbine project would cause the same disruptions to the watershed as those outlined in the authority’s letters to FERC.
Malitsch’s testimony took the full three hours of the hearing, not giving Atlantic Wind’s counsel any opportunity to cross-examine him. The next hearing is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
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