The chairs normally occupied by counsel and employees of Atlantic Wind sat empty as testimony resumed before the Penn Forest Township zoning hearing board on Wednesday night.

That did not stop the board from hearing the last of the testimony from the objectors’ last witness and the closing arguments from attorneys Ted Lewis and Bruce Anders.

Following the closing statements, the board closed the record on the hearings and took a brief recess to the office of the firehouse, where the hearing was held.

Fifteen minutes later the board re-entered the room, at which time board member Paul Fogel made a motion to deny the applications of Atlantic Wind for two special exceptions to permit the company to build up to 37 wind turbines on property owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority.

Fogel’s motion was seconded by member Patrick Walsh. With the addition of Chairwoman Audrey Wargo’s vote, the motion to deny passed unanimously.

The crowd of well over 100 residents broke out into applause despite Wargo’s statements that regardless of the ruling, one of the parties would surely file an appeal.

“This is just the first step in what will be a long battle,” Wargo said.

The board did not elaborate on its decision.

Last week, Atlantic Wind filed a public notice indicating that the company had deemed the application approved because the zoning hearing board had not held the hearing within 45 days of Carbon County Judge Steven Serfass’ denial of Atlantic Wind’s request to have an independent hearing officer appointed to replace the board and to have the hearings moved to a safer venue.

What is already a complicated matter will only get more complicated.

The next step will be for the objectors to the application, represented by attorneys Lewis and Anders, to file an appeal of Atlantic Wind’s “deemed approval” since by law the board is not permitted to do so.

In the meantime, Atlantic Wind has already filed an appeal of Judge Serfass’ order denying their earlier requests.

The matters are now in the hands of the Commonwealth Court.