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Military officials: wind turbines could impede aircraft training

VALLEY VIEW – Representatives from the state Department of Military and Veteran Affairs and Fort Indiantown Gap are the latest objectors to a proposed 40-turbine wind farm in Hegins Township.

The Bear Mountain ridge top where the turbines would be placed could negatively impact the northern military training area for aviators, the representatives told the Hegins Township Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday. Clean Air Generation LLC, of Waverly, is the energy developer proposing the project and is seeking a variance to build it.

“If installed, the turbines will increase the congestion of low-flying helicopters in the training area, increase the risk of flight at night and during degraded weather. The overall effect will be increased cost and training time, with reduced safety,” said Lt. Col. Keith W. Hickox, state public affairs officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, in a printed release he distributed Thursday at the meeting.

Leading the testimony for the military was Lane B. Marshall, garrison commander, Fort Indiantown Gap. He was joined by Marc Ferraro, deputy facilities and engineering with the DMVA; and John D. Fronko, director of the Bureau of Environmental Management with the DMVA.

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 the ridge top of Bear Mountain in Hegins Township, the proposed wind turbines would also be erected in parts of Porter, Frailey and Tremont townships.

The proposed turbines are within the northern training area for Army aviators from all 50 states, who fly between Muir Airfield at Fort Indiantown Gap and Schuylkill County Joe Zerbey Airport, Mount Pleasant.

The training environment includes daily flights between the airfield and airport; low-level “terrain flight” training; helicopter landings and training flights during day, night and night vision goggle operations; and night/night vision goggle Air Force low-level operations in and around the restricted area.

Some of the concerns the military representatives presented, in part, are:

• The turbines would raise the maximum elevation figure by 600 feet, thereby decreasing safety margins for all helicopter operations during adverse weather.

• Night operations at Zerbey Airport will be degraded by light pollution. “Night vision goggle training, which is Army aviation’s most dangerous flight mode but essential in meeting our war-time mission, will be affected the most.”

• The Air Force low-level night vision goggle and night operations will be degraded by the noncompatible lighting on the turbines.

• Instrument approaches to Zerbey and to a small private airport (74N) will have decreased capabilities after the wind turbines are installed. Changes to approaches from the west at Zerbey Airport and the only approach at 74N will negatively affect Army aviation training, capabilities and safety because of the additional obstructions in the vicinity of those airports.

• At night or in degraded weather, four helicopter landing zones will close due to the proximity to the wind turbines. Additionally, the Zerbey Airport transition from the west will close due to safety and alternative routes to Zerbey Airport will be used, adding flight time and cost to local operations.

“This will negatively impact approximately 2,000 military flights that use the area for training annually.”

• During winter operations, asymmetrical ice shedding off turbines will affect all low-flying helicopters within 1/4 mile of any turbine. The Air Force has documented ice shard speeds that exceed 200 miles per hour.

CAG, meanwhile, wants to examine possible solutions.

“We really welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue with Fort Indiantown Gap and the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and we’ve been reaching out to them,” Nicholas Cohen, principal of Clear Air Generation LLC, said in a phone interview Friday.

“We’re in the design phase of the project. There’s a lot we can do to accommodate those concerns,” he said.

CAG must meet Federal Aviation Administration standards, and intends to do what regulators require them to do, Cohen said.

Tomer Droval of Doral Group Renewable Energy Resources Ltd., an alternative energy developer based in Israel, is also partnering with CAG on the project.

The Hegins Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting was continued to mid-December.