The highly anticipated but non-binding windmill survey that registered voters in Tyrone Borough had the option to take during yesterday’s Pennsylvania primary produced a surprising outcome.
Fifty-five percent of borough voters said “yes” to Gamesa Energy USA’s proposed 10 to 15 turbine wind farm on Ice Mountain that is part of the proposed Sandy Ridge Wind Farm project. The site is located on the borough’s watershed property and could possible pay the borough between $3 to $5 million over the 30 year life of the project.
Out of the 2,932 eligible borough voters for this year’s primary, a total of 1,094 people took the survey. One survey was turned in that was marked “yes” and “no” and therefore was excluded from the final tally.
The official outcome from all seven wards in the borough was 601 in favor and 493 not in favor of the proposed wind farm, which equaled out to 55 percent and 45 percent respectively. Borough council is not bound to the survey results due to Home Rule Charter, but the final results surprised most of the council members.
Six out of the seven wards voted in favor of the proposed Gamesa project, with Ward 7 producing a 98-88 tally opposing the project.
Councilperson Bill Latchford wasn’t surprised by the outcome, although Latchford will be abstaining from council’s official vote on the proposed wind farm due to work relations with his employer and Gamesa.
“I don’t think it surprised me, but I thought there’d be a few more yes’s,” said Latchford. “Only because I think people were just scared to say ‘yes’ to it due to how loud the ‘no’s’ were being.”
The survey count was held at the borough building after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Council members and the borough secretary counted the surveys and double checked the final counts from each ward.
Councilperson Pat Stoner, who was at the forefront of organizing the informal survey, felt that the survey was done in a fair and accurate manner, adding that she thinks the people of Tyrone have spoken.
“I can only speak for myself as an elected official,” stated Stoner. “I will listen to the voice of the people.”
Stoner wasn’t the only council member who shared her opinion. Councilperson Steve Hanzir had publicly stated in the past that he was against the proposed wind farm on Ice Mountain, but the survey results have “opened his eyes” to the project.
“I still have several questions for Gamesa with the wording in the lease and everything else,” said Hanzir. “But if that’s what the people want, we’re elected to do what the people want.”
He added, “I’m glad the survey was done, because it actually surprised me that there were that many ‘yes’s.'”
Councilperson Virgie Werner had been back and forth on the wind farm issue, but said she has supported the proposal more often. She was glad council opened it up to the public, and was equally pleased with the response from the voters.
“I respect how they voted and I think we’ll all support the outcome now,” said Werner. “I think after this, we’re going to work closer and before too long make a decision – I don’t think we’re going to let it drag on.”
Council member Jennifer Bryan, who said last night she has supported the proposed wind farm from the beginning, was “pleasantly surprised” by the outcome of the survey. She feels council will be ready to move forward with a vote, because the survey results will be the push to finalize the issue one way or another.
Councilperson Jim Grazier said that although the survey was non-binding, it will give council a guideline to go by.
“It is actually the majority of the people now with the 55 percent in favor of the windmills,” said Grazier. “It gives us a little insight, because we had no idea before.”
Gamesa Project Developer Josh Framel wasn’t sure what to expect from the informal survey yesterday, but he felt the support was there all along. He said Gamesa didn’t have any expectations with the anticipated results of the survey.
“We felt for awhile that there was a silent majority in favor of this project and wind energy,” stated Framel. “It seems like this was a good opportunity to make their voices heard.”
As for borough council making a decision on the proposed wind farm in the near future, Framel said Gamesa is looking forward to council’s decision.
“Just from the information I’ve seen in the papers and people I have talked to, it looks like council will be voting soon,” added Framel.