HEGINS TWP., Pa. – Did the U.S. Army just come to the rescue of Hegins Township?

At Thursday night’s meeting of the Hegins Township Zoning Board in Schuylkill County, representatives from Fort Indiantown Gap expressed their opposition to the plan of Clean Air Generation LLC, of Waverly, to construct up to 40 wind turbines in the township. That brought loud applause from the 50 or so township residents present who were also there to make their opposition to the wind turbines known.

Lt. Col. Lane Marshall, base commander of Fort Indiantown Gap, said that if they are built, the wind turbines would have a “serious negative impact on the training, readiness and domestic support missions of the base.”

Marshall explained that Fort Indiantown Gap was the second largest Army heliport in the U.S., behind only Fort Rucker in Alabama where helicopter pilots are trained. Over 7,000 flights per year originate from the base. The mountaintop where the wind turbines are to be built are in what is now the northeast sector of the Fort’s helicopter training area.

The Army has a number of serious issues with the location of the wind farm, Marshall said. Because of the 500-foot height of the wind turbines, helicopters would have less room to maneuver in the area, and there would be more flight congestion which could lead to accidents. Also, the blinking red light emitters on the towers would affect the pilots’ use of night vision goggles, making flying more dangerous.

In addition, Marshall testified, in the winter ice shards are known to spin off wind turbines at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. He said the ice shards would be a danger not only to helicopters but also the F-10, F-16 and F-18 jet fighters that train in the same area.

Finally, Marshall cautioned that over 2,000 area residents work at the base. If the dangers of the wind turbines forced the Army to move the heliport to another base, many of the jobs would likely be lost in an area that can’t afford to lose more jobs.

John Franco, the chief environmental engineer at Fort Indiantown Gap, testified that the low frequency noise and vibrations emitted by the turbines will have a negative impact on wildlife like bats and birds. Also, the vibrations would negatively impact hunting by timber rattlesnakes, who use vibrations to find their prey, he said.

Valley View resident Gerard Pranco was among a number of residents that spoke at the meeting. He addressed Clean Air Generation principal Nicholas Cohen, and the several attorneys representing Clean Air, Hegins Township, the Schuylkill County Airport Authority, and a citizens group of over 150 people.

“You will all get paid, but we will have to live with looking at these wind turbines every day,” Pranco said. “How will we ever sell our houses? We need a class action suit.”

After nearly four hours, the meeting adjourned and will re-convene Thursday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.