SUMMIT HILL – Because she is concerned about climate change, Susan Gallagher told state environmental regulators that she welcomes alternative energy projects “if they are sited correctly.”
But Gallagher and a procession of other speakers at public hearing on Wednesday wondered if Liberty Power picked the wrong site for its wind turbines.
The company selected the top of Broad Mountain in Packer Twp. on the edge of a state game land and near the headwaters of eight high-quality streams as the spot for 21 wind turbines. A zoning hearing in Packer Twp. about whether to permit the wind project began in March and is still going on.
Wednesday’s hearing focused on a water quality permit that Liberty Power seeks from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. During a 90-minute hearing at Panther Valley High School, about 20 people told representatives why they object to the project, and the department will continue to accept written testimony about the project through Dec. 18.
Some speakers called the plan industrial development. Liberty, based in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and doing business as Broad Mountain Power, would cut 290 acres of trees, cut in roads and construct turbines, some of which would stand 60 stories tall.
“We have to decrease dependence on fossil fuel, but the cost of the so-called green alternative seems counterintuitive,” Donna Titus of Packer Twp. said.
Cathy Colangelo of Packer Twp. said timbering would increase water runoff down the mountain and could degrade streams.
“If this project was approved,” said Colangelo, whose family relies on a well, “we have a very strong concern that our water quality may be compromised.”
Jan Grover wondered if fluids from construction vehicles, oil from wind turbines or other pollutants would seep into waterways, including the 1.5 miles of creek on his 400 acres.
Irene Genther remembers a flood in 2006 in Lake Hauto, a community downhill from the wind power site. She wonders if construction on Broad Mountain would add to flooding or threaten the dam at her community.
More than half of the 600 residents of Lake Hauto signed a petition opposing Liberty’s plans.
Craig Tiano, custodian of the Lake Hauto Dam, asked the department officials to protect the dam by preventing Liberty from using explosives when clearing land.
Stephen Daderko, an engineer who lives in Nesquehoning, said Liberty didn’t detail the excavation and water pumping required for installing foundations for turbines. So he looked at data from similar sized turbines in South Dakota and estimated that Liberty will dig up 2,500 cubic yards at each foundation. The water pumped from diggings could exceed 250,000 gallons, he said.
Gallagher, who lives in Lausanne Twp. and rehabilitates injured animals, was among those who spoke about the project’s potential to harm wildlife.
She said species such as northern goshawks live in unbroken forest that exists on the Broad Mountain, forest that the project would fragment.
Liberty’s own survey found one each of the tricolored bat, little brown bat and northern long-eared bat, species that have lost more than 95% of their population to white-nose syndrome, a disease that reached Pennsylvania a dozen years ago.
Imagine surviving the worst plague in history, Gallagher said, only to be felled by a turbine blade.
Albert Titus said he grew up on the foot of Broad Mountain.
“I’ve hiked it. I’ve hunted it. … Some of the views at the top are absolutely spectacular,” he said before adding later, “I certainly don’t want the mountain or the surrounding areas ruined by a wind project.”
Charles Helling of Lake Hauto came to appreciate the setting when his son caught a native brook trout on a stream on the Broad Mountain. The trout’s head was normal size but its body shrunken, showing Helling that fish compete for food.
“It’s survival at its most primeval up there,” he said.
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