Testimony concluded Tuesday night in the battle for Atlantic Wind to gain a permit to erect 28 wind turbines on land owned by Bethlehem Water Authority in Penn Forest Township.
Written briefs are due to the zoning board by Dec. 7. The zoning hearing board will meet on Dec. 17 to deliberate and announce its decision in the matter.
A lawsuit on the original application for 37 turbines on the property is pending in Carbon County court.
That decision is expected in December.
The board then has 45 days to issue a written opinion in which the board will explain the criteria used to come to the decision to either approve or disapprove the permit.
Atlantic Wind and Bethlehem Water Authority will submit a legal briefs in support of placing the 592-foot-high wind turbines.
The parties in opposition will also review the transcripts and submit their own legal brief in an attempt to persuade the hearing board to vote against the project.
At the conclusion of testimony, Palmerton Fishing and Hunting Association secretary Kurt Steigerwalt again approached the board and made it known that there is an ongoing boundary line dispute between the association and the water authority.
Steigerwalt provided documentation to the board that supports the association’s claim that Atlantic Wind is using incorrect “Google” boundaries on the map that was part of the site plan submitted with the application.
Steigerwalt said that the map used during the hearings provided by Atlantic Wind shows wind turbines located on land belonging to the association.
Debra Shulski, attorney for Atlantic Wind, and James Preston, attorney for Bethlehem Water Authority, both objected to the submission of the documents.
Shulski argued that the association was not a party to the matter. Preston argued that boundary disputes are not properly decided by zoning hearing boards, but through other legal actions.
Greek permitted the submissions.
“They are the largest neighboring property to the project, so they certainly have standing,” Greek offered.
“We will admit the documents, and like other documents that have been objected to, we will determine the probative value during our deliberation.”
Greek agreed that the hearing board was not in a position to determine what the correct boundary lines are, but that if Atlantic Wind’s application shows wind turbines on property it doesn’t own, then the hearing board should consider that.
The board also heard from rebuttal witnesses.
Mark A. Bahnick of Van Cleef Engineering Associates took the stand for a second time since May to offer his rebuttal to the testimony of hydrogeologist Dr. Pamela Dobbs.
Bahnick concluded that Dobbs’ testimony was incorrect.
Bahnick on cross-examination admitted that he did not conduct any testing on the property to support his findings. He said Atlantic Wind would have to demonstrate that the project would meet all of the local, state and federal requirements for environmental impacts.
Bahnick used an analogy that the building of the 28 wind turbines would have less of an environmental impact than the building of 20 residential homes on the same approximately 4,300 acres.
The last rebuttal witness called by Atlantic Wind was also its first witness, Craig Poff, director of business development for Iberdrola Renewables, Atlantic Wind’s parent company.
Much of Poff’s testimony drew objections from the objectors.
Opposition attorney Bruce Anders objected to Poff’s not rebutting testimony by the objectors’ witnesses. He said Poff was making a statement summing up Atlantic Wind’s case before the board.
Lastly Poff testified to a number of “conditions” which Atlantic Wind was willing to agree to in order to entice the board to approve the application.
Some of these conditions included the removal of four wind turbines from the plan. The two wind turbines closest to Beltzville Lake Estates, the turbine closest to the proposed PennEast pipeline project and one turbine at the farthest northeast section of the project.
Poff argued that the change was in response to concerns that Atlantic Wind had heard during the hearings.
Poff also tried to testify once again that the Jim Thorpe Area School District would receive approximately $100,000 in tax revenue yearly from the project and that the county would receive about $22,000 yearly.
Poff tried to add that Atlantic Wind would agree to a condition under which it would voluntarily pay Penn Forest Township $100,000, or some other agreed to amount, yearly in lieu of a property tax since Penn Forest Township does not have a property tax.
Shulski characterized the acceptance of the conditions as Atlantic Wind’s attempts to be “neighborly.”
Anders objected to the testimony and Greek agreed, however Atlantic Wind did submit a copy of a letter in which the conditions were spelled out.
“I am going to object yet again,” Anders said. “We are here looking at this application. If you want to make these changes, submit a new application.”
Shulski argued that the conditions were a change in scope of less than 15 percent of the overall project, and that it is not uncommon for site plans to be revised during the life of a project. She added that the hearing before the zoning hearing board is only about the special exception and not the site plan.
The final public hearing into this application will be held at 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 at the Penn Forest Township building.
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