VALLEY VIEW – While an energy company seeking a variance for a 40-turbine wind farm testified Thursday before the Hegins Township Zoning Hearing Board, other objectors also entered the arena.
Among them, private citizens, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and Fort Indiantown Gap.
The board was still taking testimony after more than two hours, and had not made a decision on the variance for Clean Air Generation LLC, of Waverly, prior to press deadline.
Nicholas Cohen, principal of CAG, testified for more than an hour before the board chairman, Larry Umholtz; member, Todd Bixler; alternate, Steve Klinger; and the board’s attorney, Linus E. Fenicle, of Camp Hill.
Allan Swab, the township’s zoning officer who denied CAG’s permit application on Aug. 29, also briefly testified.
Most of Cohen’s testimony focused on what was in the township’s wind energy safety ordinance, and was under questioning by CAG attorney, Charles B. Haws, of Reading.
The board asked Cohen specific questions about the potential height and size of the turbine structure. Cohen testified they would be less than 500 feet tall, or between 485 to 500 feet, with a base size of 100-by-100 feet.
They also asked if the turbines would be visible.
“It depends where you are … They will be visible to a lot of people,” Cohen answered.
CAG entered a land lease and wind easement agreement with Rausch Creek Land LP, of Valley View, in March for approximately 12,672 acres on several parcels. In addition to Hegins Township, the proposed wind farm would also be on the ridge tops in parts of Porter, Frailey and Tremont townships, according to Cohen. Those townships address zoning through Schuylkill County, while Hegins Township has its own zoning hearing board.
“On the mountain tops is where they have to be to be economically viable,” Cohen testified.
CAG is seeking site-specific relief pursuant to the procedures in Section 803.2 of the Hegins Township Zoning Ordinance and Section 916(f) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code. The company wants to develop the wind energy project on property that is also pursuant to the township’s wind energy safety ordinance. CAG’s variance is in regard to permitted uses in the S-3 Special Purpose Mining District, where it wants to build the wind energy project.
Umholtz said the board would accept testimony on the application for a use variance, however, the board would not be taking any testimony Thursday on the company’s validity challenge.
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.
In August, the Hegins Township supervisors agreed that CAG’s challenge to the township’s zoning ordinance had merit. However, the township supervisors adopted a resolution rejecting the curative amendment that was brought by CAG, and opted to begin the procedure for developing its own curative amendment. CAG is appealing.
Since the township is within a 180-day window of establishing its own curative amendment, the zoning hearing board decided not to hear testimony Thursday on that particular matter.
About 50 people attended the meeting.
In addition to Haws, other legal representatives attending included Solicitor Donald G. Karpowich, Drums, representing Hegins Township supervisors; Attorney 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.
Anders said there were 134 objectors, and he presented a list of those names to be entered into record.
Jack Varaly, of Wilkes-Barre, a special consultant hired by Hegins Township, was also present.
Near the start of the hearing, Cerullo made a motion to dismiss CAG’s appeal, which was supported by Karpowich and Anders. The impact of the curative amendment was jurisdictional and could stay any consideration of zoning relief, they asserted.
Meanwhile, military representatives were there to express their objection to the wind farm project because of what they said would be “adverse impacts on military training and operations.”
They included Lane B. Marshall, Garrison Commander, Fort Indiantown Gap; Marc Ferraro, Deputy Facilities & Engineering with the DMVA; John D. Fronko, Director of the Bureau of Environmental Management with the DMVA; and Lt. Col. Keith W. Hickox, state public affairs officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap.
The proposed turbines are within the northern training area for Army aviators from all 50 states who fly between the Muir Airfield at Fort Indiantown Gap and the Schuylkill County Joe Zerbey Airport.
The zoning hearing board has 45 days to render a decision, and the energy company would have 30 days to appeal the decision, if it wished.
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