PENN FOREST TWP., Pa. - Opposing parties in the debate over proposed wind turbines in Penn Forest Township largely focused on the semantics of zoning terms in the township’s fourth zoning hearing on the matter Tuesday night, with the targeted land’s current principal use coming into question.
Atlantic Wind LLC has proposed 28 wind turbines within the township, located on land along Hatchery Road, owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority, a plan that has garnered considerable contention from residents who oppose the turbines for various reasons, including the effect they could have on the local environment.
The proposal has also prompted legal opposition, with attorney Bruce Anders hired to represent those who object to the wind turbines.
A 2013 wind license and wind energy lease agreement entered into by the water authority and Atlantic Wind appeared to describe the principal use of the Bethlehem Water Authority’s land — where the turbines are being proposed — as the collection of potable water, a use which would disqualify Atlantic Wind from placing wind turbines on the land, according to the township’s zoning ordinance.
Anders presented the agreement as an exhibit during the hearing. He read a portion of the text as he cross-examined civil engineer Mark Bahnick, who was hired by the water authority to advise them on the turbine project.
Bahnick said that the Penn Forest Township zoning ordinance only permits one principal, or primary, use in residential zoning districts. During cross-examination, Bahnick maintained that the water authority did not collect potable water on the land, but the agreement read by Anders seemed to contradict Bahnick’s statement.
According to Anders, the agreement reads:
“The landowner expressly reserves the right to use the property for any and all other lawful purposes, including the uses set forth in the term conservation easement, and the landowner’s use of the property for the production of potable water and any related uses thereto (the primary uses).”
Bahnick said that the term “primary uses” was not referring to potable water, but the language above it in the agreement.
“My opinion would be that the primary uses refers to all of the language above that,” he said.
“So for the production of potable water and any related uses thereto, correct?” Anders asked.
“No, all the language listed above that,” Bahnick confirmed.
Anders later pressed Bahnick on why the Bethlehem Water Authority looked to keep the property around the Penn Forest Reservoir free of any development.
“Why does the Bethlehem Water Authority protect the land surrounding the reservoirs if it doesn’t matter what’s developed there?” he asked.
Bahnick said the land was acquired by the authority to manage both development and the quality of the water in the nearby reservoir.
“It’s owned specifically to maintain that land in an undeveloped state to prevent development by other landowners, if it was owned by other parties, to protect the quality of water that ultimately drains into the Penn Forest Reservoir,” Bahnick said. “The development of that property could have an adverse impact on the quality and the quantity of water that would ultimately be conveyed to the Penn Forest Reservoir.”
Anders then received Bahnick’s confirmation that if the plan for the wind turbines is approved by the authority, the land would be developed for wind turbines. Bahnick said the turbines will be “more of a positive” than the effects that other types of development could have on the area.
The zoning hearing board took no action Tuesday night, but did schedule a continuation of the public hearing for Tuesday, June 5 at 6 p.m.
Many residents in Penn Forest Township have been vocal opponents of the plan to erect wind turbines in the community. The proposed plan has prompted numerous social media pages and campaigns voicing displeasure with the idea, citing environmental effects and impacts on quality of life as factors for opposition.
“Wind Facts PA” and “No Wind Turbines in Penn Forest Township” are just two of the vocal pages on Facebook fighting back against the plan, with the latter live-streaming the public hearing on their page Tuesday night.
A table was also set up outside the Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company #1 prior to the public hearing, offering brochures, flyers and bumper stickers in support of in support of the nonprofit organization “Save Our Allegheny Ridges 100.”
The nonprofit was also seeking contributions from critics of the turbines to support the organization's legal fund, which is focused on combating the wind turbine project.