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Top story of 2007: Tyrone Borough still in limbo over possible Gamesa wind farm on Ice Mountain

(Editor’s note: Today completes The Daily Herald’s annual series of top local stories for the year.)
In July of 2006, Tyrone Borough Council agreed to enter into a two-year lease with Spanish-based Gamesa Energy USA, LLC to allow the wind energy development company to use a portion of land owned by the borough on Ice Mountain, but located in Snyder Township, to conduct a wind study to see if it was feasible to construct a wind farm on the watershed property.
It’s now 2008 and the borough’s Ice Mountain property contains a 200 foot meteorological tower that Gamesa temporarily placed to conduct tests, but no wind farm. Council had yielded its vote several times to conduct more research into the wind farm, along with giving newly elected council members joining council to come up to speed with the proposal.
There is an increasing rise of borough residents who are now voicing their concerns about the possible wind farm; with some residents flat out not wanting Gamesa as a neighbor on the mountain. Local environmental organizations such as the Juniata Valley Audubon Society and the Little Juniata River Association vehemently oppose the wind farm site stating reasons varying from erosion problems, to Ice Mountain being designated as a “unique” Landscape Conservation Area “of exceptional significance” in the Blair County Natural Heritage Inventory.
It should be noted that both organizations do not oppose wind energy development, as long as it is done in an ecologically sound manner, avoiding ecologically sensitive areas. Those organizations feel Ice Mountain is a very ecologically sensitive area.
In Gamesa’s lease agreement, the company agrees to follow requirements from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements concerning erosion and sediment control, and watershed protection.
Some Tyrone residents do not feel Gamesa does enough, or what is done is insufficient. The opposition also states the devastating effects wind mills have on birds and bats, and migratory routes. The wind mills are 450 foot structures that would sit on top of the ridge.
Opponents feel Gamesa’s industrial wind farm “will far exceed the tiny environmental benefit that such a facility could provide” on Ice Mountain.
There is also a noise issue with the wind mills. The Allegheny Ridge wind farm has been publicly criticized for the amount of noise the wind mills make.
Gamesa has held several public meetings thus far for residents to have an opportunity to learn more about the project. A group of Tyrone residents have become guardians of Ice Mountain and are currently petitioning against the wind farm to offer proof to borough council that the majority of borough residents are not in favor of such a facility.
Gamesa proposes 25 windmills to generate 50 megawatts of clean electricity, enough to power about 15,000 homes. The majority of the project is divided between Snyder Township in Blair County and Taylor Township in Centre County. Between 10-15 wind mills would be located on the borough’s watershed property on Ice Mountain.
If borough council votes to allow Gamesa’s proposed lease agreement to construct the wind farm, it would pay the borough $6,000 per wind mill over the next 30 years while in operation, for a guaranteed minimum payment between $60,000-$90,000 annually or three percent of the gross annual electricity revenue, whichever is greater.
The borough authority could use the funds generated in any way it chooses for the benefit of the local community. It has been stated by Mayor James Kilmartin that the funds would most likely be put back into the water department.
No one in the community would see their electrical bill lowered because of the wind farm; the electricity generated by the wind mills is pre-bought.
Presently, there is not a date set for council to vote on the proposed Gamesa wind farm. Council vows to take the necessary time to make the right decision for the borough and its residents.