BP variance application denied

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HEGINS - The Hegins Township Zoning Hearing Board unanimously denied BP Wind Energy's request to install a third, temporary wind test tower in the township.

Zoning board Chairman Larry Umholtz, and members Jim Artz and John Johns voted December 12 for the denial, following a hearing that lasted a little more than an hour and included testimony from citizens and BP representatives. About 40 people, including Hegins Township Zoning Officer Allan Swab, attended the hearing held in the Hegins Area Ambulance Association building on Gap Street.

"We, the board, do not feel BP has shown justification for this variance to be granted," Umholtz announced, after the board deliberated privately for about 10-minutes. Artz added, "We don't feel the evidence to grant this is here."

BP Wind Energy had sought a variance to install the test tower, or meteorological tower, in an S-1 Special Purpose Wooded Area Zoning District. According to the application, the tower would have been placed on property owned by Rausch Creek Land, LP, on the north side of Bear Valley Road in the township, approximately 1,000 feet from the western boundary of the property at the top of the mountain.

BP already has two test towers within Hegins Township, on the mountaintop south of the municipal building.

Within 30 days of the zoning board's written decision being filed, the applicant (BP) can file an appeal of the decision if it chooses to do so, according to the board's Solicitor Paul Datte.

When asked after the meeting if BP would seek an appeal, BP Wind Energy Business Developer Mark Dypiangco, of Charlottesville, VA, said, "I can't tell you right now. We'll have to make a decision how to proceed."

Dypiangco and Jason Sweger, Project Manager for Multiband Wireless & Engineering, Moline, IL, who works directly with the construction of the towers, testified on behalf of BP. Ed Shoener, President of Shoener Environmental, of Dickson City, PA, also attended the meeting with BP representatives, but did not testify.

During the hearing, the following also offered testimony, or cross-examination, as a party of interest:

- Kris Wetzel, of Schwenks Road, Hegins Twp., representing himself, and Rocky Slope, L.L.C., which has adjoining property to the Rausch Creek, LP, land

- David Rattigan, solicitor for Hegins Township

- Jeffrey Kline, of Schwenks Road, Hegins Twp.

- Kenneth Graham, E. Main St., Hegins

During Dypiangco's brief testimony, he explained that the meteorological tower is designed to measure the wind speed at a certain location. He said BP had already installed two towers in Hegins Township that were approved, and the third tower would be very similar to what is already in place.

Wetzel asked Dypiangco a range of questions, including how high the tower would be, what noise would be generated by it, what lights would be needed, how long was the construction process, if there were any sheds or control buildings at the tower's base, how soon after data was collected would the temporary tower be removed, and what other uses were on the current property. Wetzel asked what hardship would be created for BP if the third tower was not put in place.

Dypiangco said the tower would be 60-meters in height, but deferred many of the other answers to Sweger, who is directly involved with the tower-building process. Dypiangco said his company's ability to fully evaluate the potential for a wind farm would be limited, and without the data from the wind test tower, it would limit the firm's ability to get financing for the project.

"So the loss to BP would be financial in nature?" Wetzel asked.

"Yes, that would be accurate," said Dypiangco.

Wetzel asked about the safety of the test towers, if any studies had been done, and if any towers fell down. Dypiangco said he was not aware of specific studies on the test towers, but did know of one tower that fell in the Virginia area, due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Kline asked about any costs that the township could incur, any plans for future towers and how long the test tower would stay. Dypiangco deferred some answers to Sweger, but said he expected the test tower would be disassembled shortly after the test data had been acquired, and there would not be a cost to the township.

Sweger answered several questions, specific to the tower structures themselves. He said the test towers are made by Energy Systems and are metal structures. The 60-meter towers will be orange and white in color, for visibility, and no lighting will be needed, because the tower would be shorter than 200-feet - a height above which the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires lighting. There would be orange high-visibility marker balls on the outer most wires of the tower, and yellow guide guards to improve visibility for trailriders, hunters, or anyone on the ground near where the tower is anchored. The tower has 12 anchors. It takes about two to three days to erect one tower, he said, depending on the weather conditions, and where the ground is drilled.

Each tower would have four anemometers, two at 58 meters and two at 40 meters to measure wind speed; two wind veins; a temperature sensor; barometric pressure sensor; and a meter that measures battery voltage, according to Sweger.

Most of Rattigan's questioning was in regard to the use of the current property. He asked if there had been recreational use, timbering, mining, or ash reclamation on the land where the tower would be located. Rattigan said the applicant failed to demonstrate a hardship, and requested that the variance be denied.

Graham referred to a Commonwealth Court panel ruling that Butler Township (Schuylkill County) had the right to revoke a zoning permit issued to the developer of a wind turbine project, and also the state's constitution during his remarks. "We have a duty to due diligence," Graham said. "I don't think they're the people we'd like to have in the township," Graham said, in reference to BP.

Dypiangco did not choose to cross-examine those testifying.

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