VALLEY VIEW – Hegins Township supervisors agreed Thursday that a challenge that a potential wind farm developer brought against the township’s zoning ordinance had merit.
However, the township will come up with its own correction of that zoning ordinance defect, instead of one suggested by the developer, and may consider a correction to its zoning map.
The board, by a 4-0 vote, adopted a resolution rejecting the curative amendment that was brought by Clean Air Generation LLC, of Waverly, opting to begin the procedure for developing the township’s own curative amendment. Supervisor Brad Carl was absent.
According to CAG, the township’s existing zoning ordinance is exclusionary in that it does not designate any zone within the township as a permitted area for wind turbines.
The supervisors’ decision came after Thursday’s continuation of a hearing that began July 30. CAG, a Scranton-based renewable energy company, is considering developing a wind energy farm on Rausch Creek property, possibly in an S-3 special purpose mining zone.
The company Thursday filed a zoning permit application for 40 wind turbines to be constructed and paid a $12,100 permit fee, according to Donald G. Karpowich, Hegins Township solicitor.
Al Swab, township zoning officer, denied the permit application. CAG has 30 days to appeal the decision to the zoning hearing board, Karpowich said.
Present on behalf of CAG were Nicholas Cohen, CAG principal; and Tomer Droval of Doral Group Renewable Energy Resources Ltd., of Israel, who is partnering with CAG on any potential project in Hegins.
Meanwhile, most of Thursday’s testimony in regard to CAG’s substantive validity challenge to the zoning ordinance came from Rob Feldman, Rausch Creek’s land use director.
CAG’s attorney, Charles B. Haws, of Reading, asked Feldman to explain several exhibits which were maps. One of the exhibits was from a 1982 Hegins Township zoning map; another was of a topographical map, showing the Bear Mountain ridge line, and wind speed studies with data submitted by Mark Lilly, a scientist consultant hired by CAG.
Some people attending the hearing expressed confusion about where the mountain summit was and where the S-1 and S-3 zoning areas were after listening to Feldman’s testimony. According to Feldman, when the topographical map is placed over the 1982 Hegins Township zoning map, the S-3 zone is far south of the summit. The township’s zoning map had a legend which defined the zone regions, and that’s what Feldman said he used in presenting his information.
CAG testified in July that the ridge tops are the prime location for erecting windmills due to the wind speed occurring there. CAG’s curative amendment also suggested that the S-3 zone would be the best location for windmills to be allowed in the township.
Other attorneys questioning Feldman were Martin J. Cerullo, of Pottsville, representing the Schuylkill County Airport Authority, and Bruce Anders, of Wilkes-Barre, representing Kris Wetzel and Rocky Slope Inc., objectors with adjacent property. James P. Diehl, of Pottsville, who represented Hubley and Porter townships at the hearing’s start, did not attend Thursday but had no objectors, according to Karpowich.
When Anders asked Feldman about how Rausch Creek’s acreage is currently being used and about sewage systems at the Rausch Creek campsite area in the township, Haws directed Feldman not to answer and objected.
Karpowich said he thought it was a fair question, and Feldman, against Haws’ advice, answered.
Feldman said the area is used for recreational purposes, including ATV riding and hunting, and that there were no on-lot sewage systems at the campground site.
Jack Varaly, a Wilkes-Barre special consultant hired by Hegins Township, told the board that CAG’s challenge holds merit. However, he recommended the supervisors reject CAG’s curative amendment.
Varaly suggested that windmills should be listed as a “conditional use” in an S-3 zone in Hegins Township, and not as a use permitted by right. He explained that most rural municipalities allow entities like wind farms as a conditional use or special exception. Wind farms, or solid waste facilities, are usually entities that are one-of-a-kind which would not be replicated within a small, rural township.
Meanwhile, doctors’ offices or taverns, for instance, which are usually not one-of-a-kind within a township, are usually defined as a use permitted by right.
Varaly also recommended an “overlay district” could be created in the S-3 zone, giving a more specific area for windmill placement.
Other suggestions he had were: a 50 decibel noise level at the property line; utilities be placed underground as much as possible; wind blades should be colored to blend into the background of the landscape; the maximum height from the base to the blade apex could be at 400 feet; that a decommission provision be included with bonding to cover when the turbines are no longer used; and that computerized photos be prepared to show the visual impact of the wind farm.
The township has 180 days to come up with its own amendment.
Within the next two weeks, the township will advertise its proposed amendment and will eventually hear input from the township’s planning commission and the Schuylkill County planning commission before another public hearing will be scheduled.
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