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Pa. township’s zoning aims to thwart pipelines near nature trail

NAZARETH (AP) — An eastern Pennsylvania township has approved zoning changes aimed at blocking projects such as natural gas pipelines, wind turbines, solar panels and cellphone towers from being located near its section of the Appalachian Trail.

Plainfield Township supervisors unanimously last week approved the ordinance, which also addresses mineral extraction, billboards and mobile homes, The (Allentown) Morning Call reported .

“I think we always need to be vigilant and concerned about how the trail is going to be impacted. You look back 10 years ago and no one would have anticipated explosive growth of warehouses, for example,” said environmental planner Brooks Mountcastle of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which provided a $16,900 grant for a consultant to help draft the ordinance.

Mountcastle said other municipalities, including Moore Township, Upper Mount Bethel Township and Bushkill Township have recently adopted ordinances aimed at protecting the trail, but they aren’t as comprehensive as Plainfield’s ordinance. The new ordinance includes guidelines for controlling light pollution, groundwater withdrawal, digital signs, noise, commercial outdoor recreation, residential developments, solar panels, natural gas pipelines and wind turbines.

Thomas Petrucci, the township’s manager, said the ordinance wasn’t prompted by any specific project. An advisory council suggested it, he said, based on Act 24 of the 2008 PA Appalachian Trail Act, which stemmed from a court case related to a proposed country club for car enthusiasts near a Monroe County section of the trail.

The act says municipalities with portions of trail should take action to preserve the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the trail. Mountcastle said, however, that the act’s language “lacks some teeth in that it puts the burden on the township to protect what they view as necessary.”.

There are 58 municipalities in Pennsylvania that are traversed by the Appalachian Trail, according to the conservancy.

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