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Northumberland County commissioners hold heated debate over Penn Wind agreement

Controversy, confusion and conflict came into play Tuesday afternoon as Northumberland County commissioners and residents expressed dissatisfaction with a lease agreement for a proposed wind farm in East Cameron and Coal townships. At the center of the debate are several issues, including the validity of the lease, how much acreage is involved with the agreement, and most importantly, whether the county is receiving its fair share.

SUNBURY - Controversy, confusion and conflict came into play Tuesday afternoon as Northumberland County commissioners and residents expressed dissatisfaction with a lease agreement for a proposed wind farm in East Cameron and Coal townships.

At the center of the debate are several issues, including the validity of the lease, how much acreage is involved with the agreement, and most importantly, whether the county is receiving its fair share of revenue from the lease, which was expected to generate more than $2 million for the county, Shamokin Area School District, East Cameron and Coal townships over an approximate 30-year period.

But most disturbing to Commissioner Vinny Clausi and the citizens who packed the commissioners' meeting room was the fact that no representatives of Penn Wind LLL of Sunbury were present to answer questions or dispel claims at Tuesday's lengthy session.

After much discussion on the topic, which included several animated presentations and comments by Clausi to illustrate his point that the county was getting "ripped off" under the lease agreement, the commissioners took no action to renew the annual contract and... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

SUNBURY - Controversy, confusion and conflict came into play Tuesday afternoon as Northumberland County commissioners and residents expressed dissatisfaction with a lease agreement for a proposed wind farm in East Cameron and Coal townships.

At the center of the debate are several issues, including the validity of the lease, how much acreage is involved with the agreement, and most importantly, whether the county is receiving its fair share of revenue from the lease, which was expected to generate more than $2 million for the county, Shamokin Area School District, East Cameron and Coal townships over an approximate 30-year period.

But most disturbing to Commissioner Vinny Clausi and the citizens who packed the commissioners' meeting room was the fact that no representatives of Penn Wind LLL of Sunbury were present to answer questions or dispel claims at Tuesday's lengthy session.

After much discussion on the topic, which included several animated presentations and comments by Clausi to illustrate his point that the county was getting "ripped off" under the lease agreement, the commissioners took no action to renew the annual contract and requested a special meeting be held to further review the lease with officials from Penn Wind.

Clausi appeared to annoy Commissioner Chairman Frank Sawicki with his persistence to talk about the lease agreement after Sawicki initially made a motion to discuss the topic at a later public meeting. At one point, a frustrated and agitated Sawicki told Shamokin resident Barry Getchey to "shut up" and stop disrupting the meeting when the citizen told the commissioner to allow Clausi to continue to talk. Sawicki later apologized to Getchey for his remarks.

Three years ago, Penn Wind negotiated a lease for 200 acres of county land in Coal and East Cameron townships to construct the wind farm, including turbines. But the current board of commissioners has not approved the annual renewal of the contract, which expired in early December.

Penn Wind acquired the land for $1 per year with the agreement that it would pay the county $56,000 in royalties. But Clausi wants the county to receive a percentage of the gross profits from wind energy, not just the flat yearly fee.

At the meeting, Clausi said Penn Wind paid the $1 per year for 2007 and 2008, but has failed to pay the $1 lease for 2009, which violates the lease agreement and makes it non-existent. Late Tuesday afternoon, officials from Penn Wind came into the commissioners' office and paid the $1 fee for 2009, but Clausi said that action doesn't renew the lease.

Clausi, who attended a meeting Friday between the parties before walking out, is also upset that Penn Wind plans to sell the property it acquired from the county to a California company for more than $1 million.

He pointed out that Penn Wind paid a private property owner more than $10,000 per year for the last two years to use his land where the proposed wind farm was scheduled to be built.

"They plan to sell the property for more than $1 million and are paying more than $10,000 per year to a private property owner, while we get $1 per year for the land we sold them," Clausi said. "That's ridiculous. Where's the justice behind that?"

Clausi also claimed Penn Wind officials lied to the county because they actually acquired 925 acres of land from the county, not 200 acres.

The original lease was signed by Commissioners Sawicki, Kurt Masser and Samuel Deitrick. Clausi has since replaced Deitrick on the board.

Clausi said four attorneys in the past several years have advised the county not to resign the lease.

It was renewed the past two years.

'Where's Penn Wind?'

Sawicki, who acknowledged that several issues regarding the agreement need to be addressed by Penn Wind officials, said he just wants to attract industry to the county and generate more taxes for the county, East Cameron and Coal townships, and Shamokin Area School District.

He believes the county, townships and school district would receive more than $2 million in revenue over a 29-year period under the agreement.

"I welcome any businessperson who wants to make money in this county," Sawicki said. "I want to bring jobs to this county. I would like to have a special meeting some evening with Penn Wind to bring this to a resolution."

Clausi then asked, "Where's Penn Wind?" That question prompted Sawicki to answer, "I think they walked away."

Coal Township Commissioner Gene Welsh said he was in favor of generating new business and creating a larger tax base in the county, but cautioned the county commissioners about mistakes that had been made in the past regarding abandoned coal lands.

"You must plan well and make sure you get the going rate for the land," Welsh said. "We need our fair share from this agreement."

Welsh also pointed out that Penn Wind is receiving federal funds to help build the wind farm.

Robert Faust Sr., of Lower Mahanoy Township, suggested that the county get its fair share for the land being utilized by Penn Wind. Faust said a company approached him about purchasing land in Dauphin County for a much higher price than Penn Wind paid to acquire the land in Northumberland County. Faust said the company initially thought he owned the land near his property, which he doesn't.

Faust also told the commissioners to seek advice from other counties where wind farms have been built.

'Region is dying'

Former Shamokin Area School Board Director Robert Getchey of Coal Township, who is the brother of Barry Getchey, commended the commissioners for attempting to bring much-needed industry to the county and praised Clausi in particular for cleaning up corruption in the county. But Getchey pointed out that a lot more work needs to be done to bring industry to the area and clean up communities.

"The coal region is dying," he said. "There are too many bums living in Shamokin and Coal Township. I just hope there's light at the end of the tunnel."

Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley, of Coal Township, came to the meeting with John Gruneberg of Shamokin to inform the commissioners that some of their land in East Cameron Township may have been purchased by Penn Wind under the agreement with the county.

Kelley explained his mother and Gruneberg's mother purchased approximately 70 acres of property when they acquired Gowen City Water Co. in the late 1960s. But Kelley and Gruneberg have been unable to determine if the property is part of the land purchased by Penn Wind from the county, despite extensive research at the county courthouse.

Clausi said, "We've been going back and forth for 1 1/2 years with Penn Wind. How can we negotiate a better lease when Penn Wind isn't here? I'm here to fight for the taxpayers of Northumberland County. They (Penn Wind) did a quiet title on the property and offered us nothing in return. This is unacceptable. I'm all for green energy, but not if we don't get our fair share."

Masser agreed with Clausi and said that the commissioners need to establish new guidelines when negotiating land sales in the future so the county can make more money on the transactions.

Penn Wind co-owner and chief executive officer Justin Dunkelberger, who was expected to be in attendance to provide details on his company's offer to the county, previously said Clausi's demand for a percentage of the profits is not as good as the $56,000 a year being offered.

"This is land that the county has no use for, abandoned strip-mine land. We are offering $56,000 a year in royalties over a 20-year period. That's more than $1 million for the county. Doesn't seem like too bad of a deal to me," Dunkelberger said.

Dunkelberger said the possible $1 million sale involves more than just the land, which Penn Wind has invested $700,000 in thus far.

"There is not one dollar of county money in this deal at stake, it's all ours as entrepreneurs that we've put up," he said. "We are talking the project rights, the studies and testing, and the consulting fees we've paid."

Dunkelberger previously said if an agreement can be reached, Penn Wind is hoping the project can start by year's end.

Efforts to contact officials at Penn Wind LLC about Tuesday's meeting were unsuccessful.


Source: http://newsitem.com/news/no...

JAN 20 2010
https://www.windaction.org/posts/24213-northumberland-county-commissioners-hold-heated-debate-over-penn-wind-agreement
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