Bethlehem Press

Friday, September 21, 2018

Judge appoints hearing officer in turbine case

Thursday, March 8, 2018 by Judy Dolgos-Kramer jkramer@tnonline.com in Local News

Carbon County Judge Steven R. Serfass has appointed an independent hearing officer to hear additional testimony in Atlantic Wind’s initial wind farm application in Penn Forest Township.

Serfass ruled Wednesday in the case, which came about as a result of an approval of the application for a special exception permit that was pending before the Penn Forest Township zoning hearing board. The application was deemed approved when the hearing board missed an important date in setting up additional hearings.

The deemed approval is currently being appealed by township residents and objectors to the application, Phillip Malitsch and Christopher Mangold. That case is scheduled for argument before Judge Serfass in June.

In the meantime, Atlantic Wind had petitioned the court to appoint an independent hearing officer to hear additional evidence that it wanted to get on the record.

Serfass also appointed attorney William G. Schwab as referee to take additional evidence pursuant to the Municipal Planning Code.

The approval took place before Atlantic Wind had a chance to respond to the objectors’ expert witnesses.

The wind project is being proposed to be constructed on land belonging to the Bethlehem Water Authority. The majority of the water authority land is located in Penn Forest Township.

Atlantic Wind has also filed a new application for a special exception permit for a project with a smaller overall footprint but taller towers.

Atlantic Wind has said that this is an entirely new application for the same project but that it has no intention of withdrawing the deemed approved permit.

“We will vigorously defend the deemed approved permit,” Craig Poff said. Poff is the director of business development for Avangrid Renewables, Atlantic Wind’s parent company. “At this time we only have one application before the hearing board. The other application is approved.”

Poff added that the second application takes into consideration comments made by the community during the first hearings. The initial project was for up to 37 525-foot-high wind turbines. The application before the hearing board today is for 28 600-foot turbines.

“The newer technology takes into consideration greater height, smaller footprint and higher output,” Poff said.

Poff said that if both applications are approved, Atlantic Wind would proceed with the second plan.

The hearing board met Thursday evening to hear testimony on the new application. Both Poff and Atlantic Wind’s acoustical expert, Mark Bastasch testified in support of the project. A second hearing has been set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, when Poff will again be subject to cross-examination.