ANNVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) — Leaders at Fort Indiantown Gap are renewing calls to help block a proposed windmill project northeast of the installation.
They’ve been fighting the construction for more than two years, worried it could mean the end of the aviation training center.
Get daily news, weather, breaking news and alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here
Fort Indiantown Gap is one of the premier training grounds for the Army and Air National Guard.
“There’s only two of the schoolhouses in the entire continental United States. There’s Watts out in Arizona, and there’s Eastern Aviation Training School, which sits right on Fort Indiantown Gap,” said Col. Lane Marshall, Fort Indiantown Gap’s garrison commander.
Marshall fears it could all go away if a proposed windmill project moves forward just north of the base in Schuylkill County, which would cut into part of the buffer zone the Gap relies on to maximize its training capabilities safely, not near any obstacles or people.
“The main concern for us is safety,” Capt. Travis Mueller, state public affairs officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard, said in an email.
“Fort Indiantown Gap is home to the second-busiest heliport in the country with almost 7,000 flights per year, and the windmills would be built near our flight training areas. The height of the windmills would create less room to maneuver in the area, which would lead to congestion and increase the risk of accidents,” Mueller said.
Mueller added, “Our flight crews regularly conduct night-time flights in that training area too, so the windmills would make that dangerous training that much more risky.”
“If we went from being able to train over 1,000 students a year there to nothing or half of that, it’s not going to take the Army the Department of Defense or anybody else long to figure out well, if we’re not getting our bang out of our buck there we’ve got to take this party and go somewhere else,” Marshall said.
That’s why he’s asking Lebanon County commissioners for a letter of support that could help fight against the construction.
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz is on board. “That’s not acceptable. This is national security. We’re training young men and women to protect the United States of America,” Litz said.
Fort Indiantown Gap is the biggest employer in the county.
“With that training center there, that provides jobs in the area, good-paying jobs, longevity. It also helps our economy,” Litz said.
But the company looking to build doesn’t see an issue.
“We feel strongly that we can all work together and bring another $300 million and more jobs to the area while helping to make for a cleaner environment, cleaner energy,” said Nick Cohen, president and CEO of Doral Renewables LLC.
He says they don’t want to get in the way of mission-critical work at the Gap.
“We’ve been trying to work out with them compromises but they just have not been able to get to any satisfaction points on the compromises,” Cohen said.
He says they already cut their plans in half, hoping now to install about 42 or 43 windmills, standing a little under 500 feet tall.
“We’ve done a lot of a lot of work on this with very qualified consultants and we think that there are mitigations that can be done that whereby everybody can exist comfortably,” Cohen said.
Cohen says Fort Indiantown Gap leaders drumming up support at local zoning board meetings won’t help.
“There is an actual process whereby the Department of Defense and then ultimately the FAA weighs in on it. And so, that’s where their concerns should be considered,” Cohen said.