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Wind Farm controversy

On Thursday Penn Forest Township Zoning Board will review an application from Atlantic Wind for a special exception to construct and operate 40 wind turbines on property being leased from the Bethlehem Water Authority.

The project would be located between Route 903 and Towamensing Township. The site crosses over Reservoir Road to the northeast of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.According to the application, the turbines will be 525 feet high. A good comparison is the Statue of Liberty, which is around 300 feet tall. The towers will be more than one and a half times its height. The width of the rotating blade is over 300 feet, or the length of a football field.The Bethlehem Water Authority has signed an agreement with the Nature Conservancy that allows for the installation of wind turbines."Penn Forest Township has already determined that it is an appropriate use, because it is permitted by special exception," said Craig Poff, Director of Business Development for Iberdrola Renewables, an umbrella company for Atlantic Wind."The zoning hearing is to make sure that we meet the objective standards set forth, things like setbacks, unobtrusive color, things like that," Poff said.Poff says that this is just one step in a long process that he expects to take at least two years to come to fruition."There are an additional 14 or 15 state and federal agencies and commissions that we need to clear before this project could start," Poff said.Undisturbed forestThe ridge upon which these turbines are to be located consists of pristine old forest, much of which has never been disturbed by mankind. The area is home to white-tailed deer, black bear, red fox, gray squirrel and numerous other small animals.In addition, a large population of reptiles includes about 20 different varieties of snakes.Each turbine will be bolted down to a massive concrete pad, according to the application.To construct the pad the contractor will excavate the site, create a rebar cage and pour concrete.Once the construction is complete, the pads are backfilled to leave only a small portion of the base visible.The construction site and the turbines will be connected with a permanent access road that will be cut through the wilderness.There are a number of sensitive, ecological areas found within or adjacent to the Bethlehem watershed. The Yellow Run Barrens, which lies within the proposed construction area, is home to several endangered plant species.The Yellow Run is home to a pitch pine-mixed hardwood woodland natural community as well as a mesic scrub oak-heath-pitch pines barren natural community, according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program.Also within the area, partially within and adjacent to the watershed, is the Penn Forest, Wild Creek Reservoir. The osprey, which is a species of concern (not quite endangered) also makes its nests within the watershed. Also within the district are the endangered plant species variable sedge and bog bluegrass.The Hell Creek Barrens is also adjacent to the site and is home to the variable sedge as well.These species, which are listed on the inventory of the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, are believed to be protected because they are within the watershed."The watersheds of both Penn Forest and Wild Creek Reservoirs are almost entirely protected by the Bethlehem Water Authority. Continued protection will not only serve to protect these important municipal water supplies into the future, but also provide critical open space and wildlife habitat. It will serve to benefit the bird species of special concern and, perhaps, attract additional nesting pairs (of osprey) to the lake. The plant species of concern would be harmed by a loss of overstory and reduction in water quality," according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program.According to the site, the greatest threats to the area include roads, intensive land management and nonnative plant species.Why this sitePoff said that the site has been identified as meeting the four key elements for wind energy production."You have wind, access to transmission lines, a market that will purchase the energy and land of an appropriate size. This is based on our initial evaluation of the site."The Iberdrola Renewables website has a tab related to the company's commitment to sound environmental practices."We supply clean energy and when wind energy is utilized it offsets the use of fossil fuel," Poff said. "Wind has no emissions and does not contribute to climate change."When Poff spoke about the market for the energy that would be generated by the wind farm, he said energy from various sources, such as coal, oil or wind, are collected and pooled. Each generating company sells to wholesalers who sell to customers.When you use energy at home you are using energy that comes from different sources at the same time. Poff's point is that the more clean, renewable energy that goes into the pool, the less fossil fuel that is burned and the less emissions that are released into the environment and the less impact on climate change.At this point there would be no way of knowing how much energy created by the wind turbines might be used in the area. But according to Poff, there would be a much greater benefit to Penn Forest Township residents."Hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes would be paid into the area, mostly into the school district," said Poff. "Also, there would be at peak, 250 jobs created during construction and an additional 6 to 10 permanent, high paying jobs for maintaining the site."OppositionResidents of Penn Forest Township flooded the supervisors meeting last week to speak out against the turbines.About a dozen residents spoke about the project."Have you ever heard of economic obsolescence?" asked Phillip Nelson of Towamensing Trails. "I have been in the mortgage business for many years, and there are already too many homes in foreclosure in this area. I have seen these plans and I will tell you, people will just walk away from their homes."He added, "They will stay one to one and a half years, not pay their mortgage or their taxes and then walk, because their homes will lose 15 percent of its value the first year, and 15 percent the second year and after that it slows down, but it continues to decline. People did not invest their savings and retire here to look at that."Other residents expressed their concerns with the impact on wildlife."We are organizing our community against this project," said Hank Orlandini. "We hike and hunt this ridge. This isn't green energy, it takes oil to run turbines. We are going to fight this, and we are asking you to stand behind your residents."The group has set up a Facebook page, "Say NO to the Bethlehem Watershed Wind Farm project!"Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, released a statement Monday opposing the project."As a lifelong resident of Carbon County, I am opposed to the possibility of wind turbines tarnishing our beautiful landscape. I understand the need for alternative energy, but building 40 windmills along our horizon, nestled within the tourism-dependent Pocono region, is not the answer."Further, Heffley said, windmills are neither effective nor safe. A report released by the bipartisan Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission earlier this year found that wind energy projects destroy 42 times as much land resources as natural gas and 22 times that of coal to generate the same amount of power. Windmills also are widely known to cause irreparable harm to birds and other wildlife."The only folks that stand to profit from this project are the Bethlehem Water Authority and a few corporate executives at Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables." Heffley said.The zoning board hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company Number 1.