On Saturday morning, the Juniata Township Planning Commission planned a Public Hearing for Special Land Use Permits (SLUP) for the Pegasus Wind Center. The meeting was to be held in a tent outside in the snowy winter weather at 9am with two tall propane heaters on the grass in the center of the tent.
It quickly became evident that the 40 or so chairs set up inside the tent wouldn't be nearly enough for the residents and guests attending the meeting. Soon, an additional 40 or more were lined up along the walls of the tent. Another group of 50 plus gathered outside the tent by the time the meeting was set to begin.
In an attempt to avoid being called out on Open Meetings Act violations, Juniata Township Board liaison member Heidi Stark suggested removing panels on the side of the tent so the people standing outside could see in and wouldn't feel excluded.
However, when the panels were removed, melting snow began to run down the tent roof onto attendees and the propane heaters became nearly useless except to the people sitting next to them. As she removed panels, Stark was heard saying that the Township Board needed to look into a special millage or assessment for a bigger township hall. The only completely enclosed area of the tent housed the Planning Commission.
The meeting began with an objection by an attorney for some of the concerned citizens of the area, Joshua Nolan about violations of the Open Meetings Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, failure to notify all neighboring parcels, and for other reasons. A letter was also sent ahead of time to the Juniata Township Planning Commission and the Township Lawyer by Nolan addressing reasons why he believed the Planning Commission should refuse the SLUP for the Pegasus project. It also began with several loud shouts from people inside and outside the tent that the Planning Commission couldn't be heard because there was no sound system used at their table.
Just as the members of the NextEra Team had taken to the only microphone available to begin their presentation about being good neighbors and abiding by the Township's ordinance, the meeting was interrupted by Caro Fire Chief, Randall Heckroth, serving as Fire Marshall for the area. He came in to say that there had been a call from an attendee worried that there were too many people in the tent and it was unsafe with propane heaters that could fall over. At first Heckroth gave the option to open all sides of the tent to prevent the propane heaters from being knocked over. After a discussion with their lawyer, unheard by anyone in the audience, Stark made a motion to suspend the meeting while another location could be found for the same day.
Heckroth then determined, after hearing the determination and intensity of the crowd, that it would be completely unsafe to hold the hold the meeting in the tent at any point. Upon that announcement, the Planning Commission again engaged their lawyer without the benefit of a listening public and Stark amended her motion to postpone the meeting.
The Juniata Township Planning Commission has stated they will post a new time and location for the Public Hearing as soon as they are notified of a change. While some news organizations are reporting a meeting for Monday evening, special steps are required for SLUP Public Hearings and require 15-day notice. The meeting on Monday night will be a regular Township Board meeting at the Township Hall.