Residents concerned about development on Shaffer Mountain need only look north to find some relief. Gamesa’s Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm is the perfect example of how the company designs and builds its projects in the most environmentally sound manner, and how its developers go well beyond requirements to protect water sources, natural habitats and the communities around them.

As a consulting forester, I have done a great deal of forestry work in Cambria, Bedford, Blair, Somerset and Indiana counties. During the past two years, Gamesa has developed the Allegheny Ridge site on the properties of four of my clients. I have consulted with Gamesa on that project regarding forestry, environmental and educational issues.

As someone who has seen the company’s development practices firsthand, I would like to share my views on the Allegheny Ridge site currently being constructed near Blue Knob.

The road system on the project has provided a much-needed ingress to an area that has been almost inaccessible for the landowners. The road has been carefully laid out under the supervision of an environmental consultant who has been on the site weekly since the inception of the project.

The care with which the 22-mile road system has been designed and constructed, along with the attention paid to the environmental controls, is second to none.

In the very heart of the project is the 2,936-acre Portage watershed, which is home to one of the few remaining “exceptional value” streams in this area: Ben’s Creek. Extraordinary efforts were undertaken by Gamesa and its contractors to preserve the integrity of this stream and the watershed that charges it.

The road, in its initial design, passed through a small stand of oak trees. A major portion of the oaks were killed by gypsy moths and elm span worms in the 1980s and 1990s. When this was called to Gamesa’s attention, the road was redesigned to avoid any damage to these trees. This was carried out with only a verbal request from the Portage Water Authority to Gamesa, at considerable expense to the company.

The Allegheny Ridge project placed five “open-bottom” culverts over tributaries to the headwaters of Bobs Creek, Bens Creek and Poplar Run at an enormous cost, to further protect the headwaters. Open-bottom culverts are constructed with head walls on either side of the stream so that no disturbance occurs to the stream beds.

Unlike the Portage watershed, which gets its water from surface water and deep wells, the water from the Windber Area Authority watershed comes solely from deep wells. There are eight windmills on Portage Municipal Authority property and an additional 19 turbines on private properties within the watershed. There are seven windmills planned for the Windber watershed.

Individual turbine sites on the Gamesa project impact just over an acre per tower, nowhere near the imagined four to five acres per tower discussed at many of the wind energy meetings I have attended. A large portion of this acre is then replanted with species designed to stabilize the soil from runoff and to improve wildlife habitat.

It is averred that the benefits related to wind energy are “insignificant.” While these sites will never replace the demand for coal, the Allegheny Ridge wind farm and its proposed 75 turbines will produce enough electricity to power about 37,000 homes annually. This is “insignificant?”

I am only asking people to compare wind turbines to other methods of power generation.

In my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the negatives

Michael J. Barton Jr. of Sidman has owned and operated his forestry consulting business since 1993.

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