VALLEY VIEW – The Hegins Township Planning Commission on Thursday did not make a decision, but instead, continued its public hearing on a curative amendment to the township zoning ordinance.
Members Guy Julian, Ashley Miller and Bernard Spece said the hearing would resume at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Hegins Area Ambulance Association building, 352 Gap St., in Valley View.
The board heard about an hour and 40 minutes worth of comments on the curative amendment. Private citizens asked that the commission consider the community’s best interests and properly protect residents and property values; while representatives from Clean Air Generation LLC, Waverly, and Rausch Creek Land LP, Valley View, asserted the township was trying to outright ban wind energy development.
“It’s going to end up in a lawsuit,” Charles B. Haws, the Reading attorney representing CAG told the commission.
CAG has proposed building a wind energy project, with a maximum of 75 to 80 wind turbines total; up to 40 possible in Hegins Township and the remaining in Porter, Tremont and Frailey townships.
The company has proposed turbines on approximately 12,672 acres that CAG acquired through a land lease and wind easement agreement with Rausch Creek that would be on the ridge tops of Bear Mountain and Good Spring Mountain, near Hegins, and Big Lick Mountain in Porter Township.
John R. “Jack” Varaly, a Wilkes-Barre special consultant hired by the township, gave an overview of the curative amendment, highlighting a few details of the document. He said the planning commission could either accept the curative amendment, reject it or approve it with suggested changes. The township supervisors are scheduled to make a decision on the curative amendment on Thursday, Jan. 23. According to Varaly, the supervisors can either accept the recommendation by the township planning commission or make their own decision.
In August, Hegins Township supervisors agreed that the substantive validity challenge that CAG brought against the township’s zoning ordinance had merit. However, the township decided to come up with its own correction of that zoning ordinance defect, instead of the one suggested by the wind energy developer. Hegins Township already has a wind energy safety ordinance in place, but there is currently nowhere listed where wind turbines are an allowable use.
Some of the highlights in the amendment Varaly shared were a Renewable Energy Overlay District in the S-3 Special Purpose mining district where commercial wind turbines would be allowed; a maximum height of 400 feet from the base to blade tip; noise level of 45 decibels; required studies on shadow flicker, property value and road conditions; and a decommissioning process for the turbines to be removed once they are no longer viable.
The planning commission is also considering updates to the township’s official zoning map.
Rob Feldman, Rausch Creek’s land use director, said the zoning map that Varaly presented has a line incorrectly drawn in the S-3 zone, because it does not incorporate the mountain summit, as the original written legend from the township’s 1982 map does. Varaly’s map also does not have a legend, Feldman said.
The ridge tops are where CAG’s scientists have determined are the most viable location for wind turbines to be erected.
Attorney Gretchen C. Sterns, representing Rausch Creek, said the new map would take hundreds of acres out of the S-3 zone and reduce Rausch Creek’s access to some of the best coal mining available in the Lykens Valley Vein.
“It’s an accidental rezoning of mining property,” Feldman said.
Varaly said nothing is being rezoned.
Citizens Kris Wetzel, Roger Wetzel, Ralph Lucht and Virginia Morton were among those offering comment about safety, visual impact and affects on property values.
Kris Wetzel said the overlay does not have to incorporate all of the S-3 district, and that the site of the overlay area could be shifted to lessen any potential wind turbines’ affect on Schwenk Road residents.
Jeffrey Wallitsch, of Annville, an attorney representing the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs at Fort Indiantown Gap; and David Weisnicht, Department Garrison Commander, also attended Thursday’s hearing, but did not speak.
Representatives from the Gap addressed another township entity, the Hegins Township Zoning Hearing Board, in November. They objected to the proposed wind turbine project due to the potential negative impact it could have on the northern military training area for aviators.
Haws also questioned why the planning commission members, Varaly, Zoning Officer Allan Swab and Attorney Erika Mills, who was sitting in for township solicitor Donald G. Karpowich, met privately 15 minutes before the meeting started at 6 p.m.
None of the members responded to his question during the hearing, however, after the meeting, Mills said the time was used to remind the commission to hold its reorganization, and to have the curative amendment at hand. Julian was chosen as chairman and Miller as secretary during the reorganization when the public meeting began Thursday.
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