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Bedford Township continues review of proposed wind ordinance

Bedford Township officials are continuing to review a proposed update to the municipality’s wind energy ordinance that would, in part, prohibit wind turbines in the Dutch Corner Historic Agriculture District.

The proposed ordinance was submitted to the township in December by a group of residents concerned about the potential installation of turbines in the area of Dunning and Evitts mountains.

Solicitor Brad Allison, during the township supervisors’ meeting last week, provided a review to the board regarding the proposed changes. The review was not discussed at the meeting, with Allison saying it was attorney client privilege.

Attorney Susan L. Bucknum of Enola, Cumberland County, during an interview on Friday, said she and Allison had met to discuss the proposed ordinance after the meeting, and that she was told the township is taking the proposal “seriously.”

“He assured me that he spent a lot of time reviewing and researching the material we put together,” Bucknum said. “And that they are taking our submission seriously.”

The township’s current wind ordinance from 2010 is a copy of a 2006 model wind ordinance from the state that doesn’t account for changes in the wind turbine industry or case law since that time, Bucknum said.

The push to update the ordinance was spurred by preliminary interest from a Maryland-based energy company to install turbines in the area of Bedford, East St. Clair and South Woodbury townships.

The group seeking the changes includes multiple individuals, including township residents Nina and William Sweeney, Ken Gibbs and Sam Pratt, as well as Laura Jackson of Clearville, a founder of the Save Our Allegheny Ridges group.

A petition posted to change.org received 508 signatures in support of the proposed ordinance, including 136 residents from the township and surrounding area.

“I think that should give a good indication to the supervisors and solicitor that this is not just our group of people who are concerned,” Bucknum said.

The 36-page proposed ordinance includes a number of updates to what was approved a decade ago, including changes regarding setbacks to non-participating property owners and historical properties. It would prohibit turbines in the Dutch Corner Historic Agricultural District, the core habitat area of the Dunning Mountain Forest Natural Heritage Area, or any designated natural or wildlife conservation area.

“We’re not asking for any ordinance provision that is not already in other municipalities in Pennsylvania,” Bucknum said. “We borrowed directly from other ordinances, including ordinances that have withstood legal challenges from residents.”

The ordinance also would require prospective developers to have a variety of studies conducted for any proposed project, including those on environmental protection, scenic view impacts, noise, shadow flickers and property values.

Some of the environmental protections in the ordinance aim to protect bat and bird species. The Dunning Mountain Forest Natural Heritage Area is a large section of the mountain in the northwest portion of the township, as well as parts of East St. Clair, King and South Woodbury townships, that was identified as a core habitat for the endangered Indiana and northern long eared bat species.

Bucknum noted that the constitutional protections under the Environmental Rights Amendment fall within the scope of a municipality’s duty to enact ordinances to protect the public historical and natural resources.

Greg Crist, chairman of the board of supervisors, said the board is still collecting information from its solicitor.

“It’s my understanding that he’s going to give us another update, probably at our next meeting,” he said.

Crist added any changes to the ordinance would be discussed during a public meeting.