PENN FOREST TWP., Pa. – Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Penn Forest Township Zoning Hearing Board will announce its decision on an application for 28 wind turbines on Dec. 17, after months of zoning hearings for a special exception application submitted by Atlantic Wind LLC.
The date was announced as the final night of testimony wrapped up Tuesday evening. Proponents of the wind turbine project defended its impact on nearby land during the hearing.
Representatives from both Atlantic Wind and the Bethlehem Water Authority – which owns the land the turbines are proposed on – made the case that the project will not affect water quality and runoff. Additionally, they looked to quell worries that the project’s close proximity to the proposed PennEast Pipeline is a cause for concern.
The hearing began with testimony from Mark Bahnick, a civil engineer who is frequently retained by the water authority for special projects. Bahnick testified that the wind energy project will not have any noticeable impacts on nearby features, referencing both water quality and stormwater runoff.
Throughout the course of his testimony, Bahnick maintained that the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting process will ensure that the project doesn’t negatively impact water quality in nearby streams. Bahnick added that the applicant, Atlantic Wind LLC, will be required to mitigate any potential disturbances in stormwater runoff and erosion as required by local township and county ordinances.
“This project will have to be designed in accordance with township and county stormwater management ordinances. Those ordinances would require that the project not provide for any increase in the stormwater rate or volume of water discharge from the project site,” Bahnick said.
Bahnick said that the rigorous nature of the NPDES permitting process will force Atlantic Wind to demonstrate that the project “will not have any adverse impact on the downstream of receiving flows.”
“That process to obtain that permit is very extensive. It is very costly. It takes about a year to get through that process,” he said.
Back in September, civil engineer Phil Malitsch – a township resident opposed to the turbines – suggested that the nearby location of the PennEast Pipeline, a controversial natural gas pipeline which would run through Bethlehem Water Authority property, could pose safety problems within the township.
“The bottom line is that they’re two very large infrastructure projects,” Malitsch testified last month. “To say that one shouldn’t consider the other is completely inappropriate.”
According to Bahnick’s testimony Tuesday night, the closest wind turbine will be located 400 feet away from the pipeline. Bahnick disagreed with Malitsch’s assertion, stating that the two projects are “mutually exclusive” and that the distance between the turbine and the pipeline “should be more than enough” for construction to take place.
Bahnick said the timeline between the construction of both projects is unclear.
Craig Poff, the director of business development for Atlantic Wind, added that despite Malitsch’s claim, Atlantic Wind has had knowledge of plans for the pipeline for approximately two years. Poff added that not only has the pipeline been factored into the company’s plans, but that it is common for energy projects and utilities to be located in close proximity to others.
“I should note that it is very common, and certainly not uncommon, for us to design around existing and proposed infrastructure such as natural gas transmission pipelines, existing electrical and gas distribution lines, cable, phone, fiber, (and) microwaves beam paths as you see here,” he said. “These are all typical considerations in the design and construction of a project.”
Poff added that Atlantic Wind will communicate with the PennEast Pipeline Company, as is typical when two projects are located in close proximity.
“There is coordination with the owners of those assets to ensure nondisturbance and appropriate precautions are taken by both sides and both parties,” he said.
Attorney Bruce Anders, who represents objectors to the wind energy project, questioned whether the 400-foot setback from the nearest wind turbine to the pipeline would be enough if the 592-foot turbine were to fall.
“We can do the math. If that tower falls over, it falls onto the pipeline if it falls in that direction, correct?” Anders asked.
Poff said that assumption is “not necessarily” true and suggested that if the turbine near the pipeline would fall, there’s no way to tell if it would fall in the direction of the pipeline. He added that if the wind energy project is approved, that wind turbine, along with a few others, could be removed in response to residents’ opposition to the project.
The zoning hearing board decision is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 at the Penn Forest Township municipal building.