Article

Turbine project tale is still spinning

Despite the zoning classification of “conservation,” the previous majority supervisors and their allies, perhaps intoxicated by $3,000 annual payments for each of the 34 turbines, have been willing to bend, if not outright violate, township ordinances to push this project forward.

WHAT CAN YOU buy for $100,000 per year? Until recently you could buy a township, specifically Bear Creek Township, which has been bending over backwards to allow the industrialization of the Crystal Lake/Arbutus Peak parcel.

This is Luzerne County’s premier open space, recently purchased by the county for recreation and watershed protection. Despite the zoning classification of “conservation,” the previous majority supervisors and their allies, perhaps intoxicated by $3,000 annual payments for each of the 34 turbines, have been willing to bend, if not outright violate, township ordinances to push this project forward. This has resulted in some unusual actions in the past several years:

The wind park agreement with the township is a good example. It makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the municipality is being coerced with cash. The 2003 document brazenly describes the payments, proposed by the developer Energy Unlimited, as an “inducement to approve.” The township supervisors, then under the leadership of Chairman Ed Benkoski, gave preliminary approval of the project on the same day that this lucrative agreement was signed. In doing so, they rode roughshod over the recommendations... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
WHAT CAN YOU buy for $100,000 per year? Until recently you could buy a township, specifically Bear Creek Township, which has been bending over backwards to allow the industrialization of the Crystal Lake/Arbutus Peak parcel.

This is Luzerne County’s premier open space, recently purchased by the county for recreation and watershed protection. Despite the zoning classification of “conservation,” the previous majority supervisors and their allies, perhaps intoxicated by $3,000 annual payments for each of the 34 turbines, have been willing to bend, if not outright violate, township ordinances to push this project forward. This has resulted in some unusual actions in the past several years:

The wind park agreement with the township is a good example. It makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the municipality is being coerced with cash. The 2003 document brazenly describes the payments, proposed by the developer Energy Unlimited, as an “inducement to approve.” The township supervisors, then under the leadership of Chairman Ed Benkoski, gave preliminary approval of the project on the same day that this lucrative agreement was signed. In doing so, they rode roughshod over the recommendations of the township planning commission, which had stipulated that multiple changes be made to the project before approval was granted.

Still, according to the township ordinance, a ruling by the planning commission is necessary before the supervisors can issue final approval. After losing in the May primary and perhaps sensing the new threat to the wind project, Mr. Benkoski appointed himself to the planning commission and attempted unsuccessfully to take over as chairman. Still, it was not until last December that EUI bothered to bring their revised plans back to township planners. Changes include significantly larger turbines, 3,000 feet of new roads, and overhead wires replacing buried cables, none of which were required by the planning commission.

Township zoning decisions regarding the wind site have been equally irregular. Zoning variances are generally used to allow slight modifications in the property’s use (for instance, to allow a structure to be built slightly closer to a property line than would normally be allowed). In Bear Creek, Energy Unlimited is using the variance ordinance for a more radical purpose: to place an industrial facility on land zoned for conservation.

To obtain a variance in Bear Creek Township, one must prove that construction of the massive wind facility will not alter the property’s essential character -- a difficult sell in this case. The applicant must also prove that none of the other uses allowed by the zoning designation are possible on the property. On C-1 land in Bear Creek Township, those uses include agriculture, water impoundment, use as a wildlife refuge, and notably, timbering. Proof that just one of the allowed uses is practical is legally sufficient to defeat any claim to a variance.

Yet Bear Creek Township granted a variance in 2003 for 26 turbines.

What makes this unusual is that between 2000 and 2003, the Crystal Lake property was being timbered, a permitted use. Now Energy Unlimited is applying for a second variance for nine additional turbines. Finally, under the scrutiny of objectors, the application is proving difficult, if not impossible, to justify legally.

Happily, in Bear Creek Township there has finally been a change in leadership. The township supervisors, lead now by Bonnie Wasilewski, appear to be appropriately skeptical of Energy Unlimited, and concerned about the wind site’s impact on this valuable parcel. The township planning commission is reviewing the newest set of site plans, which are significantly different from the originals that they should require a completely new submission. This would pause the process, and allow a more thoughtful and objective review by the new township leadership.

Meanwhile, Defend Our Watershed, along with a number of township residents, will continue to work through the law to see that the township land use ordinances are upheld and enforced.

Information about pertinent township meetings and hearings can be found at www.savecrystallake.org. Those who currently recreate at Crystal Lake will have an opportunity to testify at the next Bear Creek Township zoning hearing board meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 22. Join us and help us Defend Our Watershed.

Dr. Henry F. Smith Jr. is a board member of the environmental group Defend Our Watershed.

Source: http://www.centredaily.com/...

FEB 21 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1389-turbine-project-tale-is-still-spinning
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