After legal issues over safety put hearings on pause last year, Penn Forest Township zoners plan next week to resume discussions on whether 37 wind turbines can be built on the ridges surrounding Bethlehem's water supply in Carbon County.
But Craig Poff, a spokesman for applicant Atlantic Wind, said the hearings are moot and the company says it now has zoning approval to proceed because the township missed a legal deadline to continue the proceedings.
"We're simply exercising our legal right to due process," Poff said. "We have asserted that we have deemed approval."
Atlantic Wind argues in a legal notice Friday that the Municipal Planning Code required the hearings to be held within 45 days of the prior hearing. The hearings were put on hold last fall while Atlantic Wind petitioned a court to appoint an independent examiner and move the hearings to the courthouse over safety.
The meetings, packed to capacity at a local fire hall, had been punctuated by "boos" and heckling of Atlantic Wind representatives. The company also referenced social media postings by its critics and argued the zoners could not be impartial under the circumstances.
Judge: zoners will decide if turbines can be built on Bethlehem's watershed
Carbon County Judge Steven R. Serfass ruled against Atlantic Wind, ordering on Feb. 17 that a zoners hearing be scheduled within 45 days. A footnotesuggested the hearing could be moved to the courthouse.
But Poff said moving the hearing to the courthouse could not be arranged. He said he was unaware if the township would appeal the company's assertion.
Matthew Rapa, the township's zoning solicitor, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Township secretary Susan Gibsier said Tuesday the hearing remains on for 6 p.m. May 17 at the Penn Forest Township Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1.
Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of Avangrid Renewables, wants to build 37 wind turbines on about 260 acres north and south of Hatchery Road in Penn Forest. The Bethlehem Authority, which owns the land and has a contract with Atlantic Wind, would get about $100,000 a year from the agreement and advance its environmental goals by creating renewable energy.
But property owners have railed against the plan since the hearings began in April 2016, arguing the project would decrease property values, fragment an ecologically important forest and hurt water quality.