FRANKLIN, W.Va. Standing in front of a collage of property maps with colored tacks tracing the circuitous route of the transmission line, Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County spokesperson Robbie Sites addressed the crowd Friday night. “This is our best guess of where (the transmission line) is going,” he said pointing to the map.
Running his finger along the route, but stopping short of naming property owners fearing it might cause hard feelings, Sites paused along Sandy Ridge and then Smith Creek to identify landowners most adamantly opposed to leasing their property to the Liberty Gap wind project.
“I think the battleground is right here in the county right now with the landowners who’ve said no,” said Sites.
After the meeting Sites was not specific when asked how many leases Liberty Gap needed to run the t-line or how many landowners had refused to give up a right of way. He did, however, write in a letter published in The Pendleton Times that he understood two or three property owners on Sandy Ridge and at least one around Smith Creek had refused Liberty Gap?s offers.
Liberty Gap did not respond to The Recorder’s request for an interview by press time.
On the heels of Liberty Gap’s recent notice of intent to file for a permit from West Virginia’s Public Service Commission, Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County , a group formed in opposition to the proposed wind utility there , held its first gathering since early this summer to discuss strategy.
Liberty Gap, a subsidiary of U.S. Wind Force, intends to build about 50 industrial turbines atop Jack Mountain on the West Virginia side. The project would begin just north of the Highland County, Va., line and stretch toward Franklin for six and a half miles. There has been concern among Highland residents the company will attempt to extend the project into the Virginia side if it successfully passes muster in Pendleton. The company’s original study of the power grid noted its intent to build up to 112 turbines total, though it has not yet applied to Virginia’s State Corporation Commission to extend the project into Highland.
Liberty Gap has obtained leases for the proposed utility site in Pendleton, but has not secured all the rights of way needed for the transmission line required to connect the plant to a substation north of Franklin.
Sites pointed to Moatstown, a small community on the eastern slopes of Jack Mountain, as being particularly crucial in the fight against obtaining the rights of way. “That community has more power in this thing,” Sites said.
He said he hadn’t known until recently how many people were connected to the community, saying several families return every year for an annual homecoming. A resident from Moatstown replied he had measured the distance from his home to the top of Jack Mountain and it was 2,500 feet away (about half a mile).
“It’s not going to be the same if these (turbines) come in,” Sites replied.
“I still think we have a couple of ways we could stop them,” he continued. Sites listed state legislation, an ongoing study on bird and bat kills around wind turbines, the Navy Base at Sugar Grove or Green Bank Observatory coming out against the project, or a strong turnout of the project’s opponents in the PSC’s public comment period as all possible ways to block Liberty Gap.
Sites said he had met with West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to lobby against the proliferation of wind turbines in the state, but that Manchin had been noncommittal, saying legislation would have to be introduced before he could become involved.
Sites said Tom Campbell, a Democratic state delegate from Greenbrier County, was trying to call for a moratorium on wind energy projects and advocating for state oversight of the industry. John Blair Hunter, a Democrat from Monongahela, Sites said, was calling for a ‘no turbine zone’ within a 20-mile radius of Spruce Knob. Spruce Knob is the highest peak in West Virginia and its panoramic views attract tourists from all over the country.
Sites told the 70-some gathered to make sure they wrote to the PSC once Liberty Gap’s application was submitted.
Liberty Gap filed its notice of intent on Nov. 2. It has 30 days to send in its application. Once the application is publicly posted, people have 30 days to make comments about the project to the PSC or become an intervenor in the process. An intervenor is a person who can provide expert testimony to the case. Sites said his group is trying to line up as many experts as possible.
Sites claimed the use of eminent domain was still a legitimate threat if enough landowners agreed to the transmission line and only a handful didn?t agree. Sites said Pendleton Economic and Community Development Authority Executive Director Shelly Kyle had assured him the county does not have the authority to condemn land, but he believed it did.
Sites railed against local officials for not getting involved in the process. “Where are our leaders?” he asked. “They should be looking out for our best interest.” Sites said county commissioners should at least be negotiating with Liberty Gap to ensure the best deal for the county and landowners.
Sites also asked why Jim Cookman and other U.S. Wind Force officials had continually avoided attending public meetings. “Nobody has said to us why this is a good thing for our county,” Sites said.
FOBPC member Larry Thomas noted Shell WindEnergy Inc. (a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC) recently purchased a large wind project in Grant County, W.Va. that has yet to be built, and said U.S. Wind Force would likely do the same with Liberty Gap, selling it to a large corporation.
With Liberty Gap’s activity starting to heat up, Sites said his group plans to meet again in the near future.