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Private consultant hired to help Hegins Township with wind power zoning matter

VALLEY VIEW – Hegins Township supervisors Wednesday set a public hearing date and also hired a private consultant to help them wade through zoning matters involving wind power.

A public hearing for a curative amendment application was scheduled for 6 p.m. July 30 at the Hegins Area Ambulance Association building in Valley View.

Challenge

Clean Air Generation LLC filed a substantive validity challenge to Hegins Township’s zoning ordinance. The Scranton-based renewable energy company is considering developing a wind energy farm on Rausch Creek property in an S-3 special purpose mining zone, although no specific project has been proposed.

The township had 60 days from the company’s June 5 filing date to schedule the hearing. CAG proposes that the township amend Section 408 of the Hegins Township Zoning Ordinance, S-3, Special Purpose Mining, to allow the development of a wind energy facility as a permitted use.

Attorney Erika Mills, who was sitting in for township solicitor Donald G. Karpowich, said currently there is no district within the township that permits wind energy. Mills said, under law, there has to be some balance. Wind energy cannot be outright prohibited.

CAG entered a land lease and wind easement agreement with Rausch Creek Land LP, of Valley View, in March which encompasses approximately 12,672 acres. An alternative energy developer based in Israel, Tomer Droval of Doral Group Renewable Energy Resources Ltd. is also partnering with CAG on any potential project in the township.

Consultant recommended

The supervisors hired consultant John R. Varaly, of Wilkes-Barre, under recommendation from Karpowich. Varaly’s rate is $150 per hour. Supervisor Mike Begis was absent.

Ed Wenger, township code enforcement officer, advised the board to consider the consultant. “If your solicitor is recommending this individual, it’s because he wants the best to help you out. I’ll use the analogy, you don’t go to your family doctor for heart surgery. Donald Karpowich is very well known throughout the state for zoning, and zoning law and so forth. He teaches classes. If he’s deferring to another colleague, there’s a reason for it.”

Initially, supervisors were interested in finding a consultant closer to home. However, due to the time constraints for scheduling the public hearing, the board decided to hire Varaly. Supervisor Brad Carl also made a motion that was approved, asking that if a consultant is needed in the future, there should be at least two to three other recommendations or references included, if time allows.

No ‘ambush’

A few members of the public attended the meeting. One citizen, Kenneth Graham, recalled when BP Wind Energy had considered entering the township several years ago that there were studies done. He said perhaps the consultant could review some of that information from an engineering or legal standpoint. Graham said the supervisors could also consider going to Varaly’s office to limit some travel time costs for the consultant.

Several citizens spoke out about the short time period the township had in responding to its zoning shortfall.

Rob Feldman, Rausch Creek’s land use director, said they followed the township solicitor’s request to address the zoning deficiency.

“Those are very legitimate concerns. This was not an application to actually build anything. We observed that zoning does not address them (wind turbines) at all,” Feldman said.

“The attorney for the project approached the township solicitor and said, ‘How do we address this?’ They discussed three or four different options. Donald Karpowich said the way this works best for the township and for you is to apply for a curative amendment. Here’s the procedure to do that. Come to the meeting.

I understand the concern. No one ambushed anybody.”