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Wind company launches balloons

A balloon test conducted by officials with the Broad Mountain Wind Project went off without a hitch Friday morning after being delayed nearly a week due to high winds.

Four balloons were elevated within the footprint of the proposed 21-turbine wind farm in Packer Township to serve as a representative example and provide additional data for site analyses to be submitted as part of the ongoing zoning hearing process.

“This was all for visual impact assessment to give people a visual marker of where these turbines would be,” said Rob Miller, project manager. “Earlier, we gave a visual report to the zoning board where we superimposed the turbines, showing where they would be. The board requested this balloon test. It’s not all that common, but we were happy to check off that box.”

A team from Digital Design and Imaging Service Inc. conducted the test, with balloons flying well past the anticipated two hours.

The crew flew three white balloons at the proposed 656-foot tall turbines when the blade tip is at its apex. A smaller orange balloon marked the 418-foot height of the top of the turbine tower.

The four balloons were spread across different parts of the wind farm, with one each on the far eastern and western ends and two others in between along the ridge.

In May, attorney Greg Mousseau, speaking for the Packer zoning hearing board, explained the board is trying to determine a “field of view” for the entire project. They are hoping for a “panoramic view,” versus the simulated photos provided so far, to show “the visual impact to existing homes.”

“The weather was beautiful today and really gave us a chance to give the community that visual they were looking for,” Miller said. “There were photographers out today at around 15-16 different locations, and we’ll be taking those images and giving a new visual impact piece to the board that will include the balloons as well as the previously superimposed turbine images.”

The test was originally slated for last weekend, but Miller said balloon experts advised against the flight due to 15-20-knot winds on the Broad Mountain.

Packer Township’s zoning board had requested 26 balloons to show each pad site, but Miller said that wasn’t practical or safe.

“People were out and about today to see this test and how it would look,” he added. “A neighbor rented a plane to check it out from that perspective.”

Miller said he hopes to bring the images from today before the zoning hearing board during a scheduled Aug. 14 hearing. Before that, a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7.”

As for whether the public, who had concerns about the visual impact of the proposed turbines, would be swayed by Friday’s event, Miller said beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“I think some people view turbines as progressive and see the economical and environmental impact, while others just don’t like them,” he said. “I think the visual impact is one of the biggest concerns people have going into this, so hopefully some of those concerns were put to rest.”