FAA: Bedford County wind farm may pose aviation hazard

Jan. 7, 2010


Jan. 7--JOHNSTOWN -- The Federal Aviation Administration has concerns that half of the turbines proposed for the Shaffer Mountain wind farm overlooking Bedford County could impact operations at the Bedford County Airport.

The FAA in a recent finding said that 15 of the farm's proposed 30 400-foot-tall windmills have the potential to create problems for aviation.

"Those 15 are in a location where they could present a hazard to departures from this airport," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said Wednesday.

Brown described the finding as a preliminary review. No final determination has been made, she said.

News of the potential impact is a concern to airport manager Ray Jennings.

"We're not trying to hurt the windmill companies, but this is a serious issue; 80 to 85 percent of our operations are business related," Jennings said.

The FAA findings say that 15 of the turbines "exceed obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect."

"They are at the height that trigger a review," Brown said.

It is potentially a first step between the federal agency and the developer working on what Brown termed as "other options."

Opponents to the Shaffer Mountain project view the FAA's initial finding as a glimmer of hope that Gamesa will give up on the project.

They say it threatens an ecologically sensitive area in Somerset and Bedford counties.

"This is just another straw on the camel's back," said Jack Buchan of Johnstown, a member of Sensible Wind Solutions.

"You have the Indiana bat -- they're up there on the mountain. You have two exceptional value streams," he said.

The Shaffer ridge is a major corridor for eagles, owls and all types of bird life, he said.

"Now this really steps it up," Buchan said.

A Gamesa spokeswoman said the Spain-based wind energy company is not quitting Shaffer Mountain. It simply may be a matter of providing the FAA with additional information.

"We do not expect this recent ruling to affect the proposed project," Gamesa project developer Alyssa Edwards said.

"We are working with the agency to provide them with the information they need to re-examine this latest submission."

Edwards said an FAA review two years ago of the same turbine locations resulted in approval for Shaffer Mountain. Gamesa had to go back to the FAA because the initial ruling expired after 18 months -- before construction could begin.

The project has been delayed at the state level as Gamesa seeks approval from the Department of Environmental Protection for a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems permit.

Dan Noble, Gamesa's head of North American Development, said the company is studying the FAA ruling to determine any impacts on the project.

The Bedford County Airport is situated on 168 acres of land four miles north of Bedford at Cessna. Designated a business airport, it has no commercial flights, but on average, 40 planes use the facility daily.

It has one runway, 5,005 feet long and 75 feet wide.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said Gamesa has about two weeks to respond to the finding.