The Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Monday to enact an ordinance prohibiting the construction of structures exceeding 100 feet in height.
The tall structures ordinance would ban the 400-foot wind turbines that a wind energy company has expressed interest in building on the county’s highest ridges.
The ordinance has a sunset clause of six months, meaning that it will expire automatically six months after the enactment date of Nov. 6.
The local law makes exceptions for structures “erected and used exclusively for the purposes of telecommunication” and for “towers, spires or steeples constructed for places of religious worship.”
No variances or conditional or special use permits will be granted, according to the wording of the ordinance.
County Attorney Eric Monday said the purpose of the sunset clause is to allow the board to consider the results of surveys sent to real estate owners, asking their opinions on the ordinance. Those surveys are due to be returned, along with real estate tax payments, on Dec. 5.
The board could make a decision on whether to make the ordinance permanent before the conclusion of the six-month period, Monday said.
Blue Ridge District Supervisor Roger Martin, board chairman, the only member who voted against the ordinance, said it would prevent the owner of a 100-foot structure from erecting a flagpole to fly the American flag on top of the structure.
Martin said a bill the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow any landowner who thinks his property rights have been violated to sue the county in federal court, and that he would probably win the case. “This would constitute a regulatory taking of people’s rights” including the right to profit from property ownership, he said.
Monday said the bill, which has not yet been passed by the U.S. Senate, would “essentially federalize eminent domain cases.” He agreed that localities would see an increase in litigation if the bill becomes law.
Peters Creek District Supervisor David Young said parliamentary procedure states that any ordinance passed by the board of supervisors can be changed by the board. “If we enact any ordinance and find it contravenes federal law, all we need to do is revisit and rescind it,” he said.
Young made the motion to enact the ordinance, with Supervisors Crystal Harris (Smith River), Danny Foley (Mayo River) and Jonathan Large (Dan River) voting in favor of the motion.
The board’s action came about two hours after the public comment period, when approximately 30 people, including members of SOAR (Save Our Appalachian Ridges), turned out to show their support for the ordinance and their opposition to wind turbines in Patrick County.
“As a citizen of Patrick County, I have been motivated to step forward and become a critic of the actions, or more correctly, the inactions of this board for the past several months,” Richard Cox said. “I’m especially appalled at the comments and statements of certain members of this board concerning the intent of those who oppose an issue…Actions and inactions often speak louder than words, which are uttered publicly.”
Cox said he was appearing to speak out against the wind turbines, but was equally concerned about “the method and manner in which this board addresses major issues of public concern that affect all residents of Patrick County.” He cited the board’s handling of issues including parks and recreation, school board matters, annexation, and “the questioning of the EMS coordinator’s use of a special response vehicle to properly carry out his duties.”
“Not only have the members of the board been insulted by certain members, but the public has received insult after insult when they appeared to express their opinions on issues that affect us all,” Cox said.
Cox said the board had “ignored or overlooked” petitions signed by more than 1,000 citizens expressing opposition to wind turbines, and presented the board with petitions containing the signatures of 200 additional people “in opposition to these monstrosities.”
Cox said the board had sent surveys to “a selected segment of the citizenry as if other citizens of this county do not matter.”
As Cox continued to speak, Martin told him that his three-minute time limit was up.
Nancy Stanley said if the tall structures ordinance were not enacted, the wind turbines could lead to a decrease in tourism in the county. Windmills might devalue real estate, have negative emotional impacts, and cause some citizens to relocate, she said.
“The biggest issue is the economic issue,” Stanley said. “We’re going to lose money if we don’t enact this tall structures ordinance.”
Jeannie Eutsler said trees and mountains have no human voice, but if they did they would say, “please protect us for coming generations.” The wind turbines would be detrimental to Patrick County citizens, mountains and forests, she said, asking the supervisors to “please help us save our Appalachian ridges.”
The audience applauded Eutsler’s comments, prompting Martin to say, “I said there would be no clapping.”
In response to questions from Eric Johnson, Monday said the tall structures ordinance is not unconstitutional, zoning is not unconstitutional, and that there is nothing in state or federal law or the U.S. Constitution that gives a property-owner an absolute right to do whatever he wishes with his land.
“So that dog won’t hunt and people who oppose wind turbines in Patrick County are not terrorists out to hijack the Constitution,” Johnson said, referring to comments made by Martin in a previous meeting.
Kerry Hilton said wind turbines have been proven to be ineffective in producing energy and that there is a loss of energy in the conversion process, causing wires to “heat up the air and waste electricity.” One project transferring North Dakota wind power to Los Angeles produced only enough energy “for a handful of homes, definitely not worth the millions of dollars” it cost, he said.
Hal Strickland said there would probably be a loss of the county’s tax base “if towers are sprouting up all over the place,” resulting in a tax increase which everyone would have to pay.
Strickland said “the beauty of the county” was one of the main reasons he picked this area for retirement, and wind turbines would destroy much of that beauty. Wind towers are better located in other places, such as off the Atlantic Ocean or in the plains states, he said.
Gloria Hilton asked the board if speakers on the wind issue were still limited to three minutes each even though speakers on other issues have not been given time constraints.
Monday said there is nothing in Virginia law that stipulates how long speakers can speak, and that the matter is left up to the board of supervisors.
Large said the policy of limiting speech “is the chairman’s policy, not the rest of the board.”
Gloria Hilton read part of a letter she and her husband Kerry received from state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds. In response to questions from the Hiltons, Reynolds said he supports green energy, solar energy, alcohol production for energy, and other sources as alternatives to petroleum. “I do not support 410+ feet commercial wind turbines on the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Reynolds wrote.
Hilton described the view from near her Meadows of Dan home as she took her dog for a late night walk Saturday: the cold air, the full moon, the constellations of stars, a few lights from homes in the valley to the south.
“I looked to the southwest and saw one light on top of Belcher Mountain,” she said. “This is a scene from Patrick County, Virginia and something you can advertise to the world. This is not something you can see in metropolitan areas. This is a scene to be revered.”
Hilton said she then imagined the view with turbines on top of Belcher Mountain, with lights placed on the hubs of each turbine to warn air traffic. “So there will be lights at about 350 feet all over the ridges of Belcher Mountain,” she said. She described the rotation of the blades, the noise “that sounds like a helicopter starting up,” the flickering or strobe-like lights that appear to flash when the blades’ speed increases. “So if there are 50 wind turbines each turned slightly differently from the other, you will be able to see lights flashing at a rapid rate all over the mountain and all night long,” she said.
Hilton said it has been medically documented that these lights at night and the strobe effects during the day can cause migraine headaches or even seizures.
“Just because it may not affect you, please be concerned about the folks who live under and near the actual turbines,” Hilton said. “They too are property owners and have rights that will be abused if turbines are built.”
Scott Eutsler said members of SOAR have been holding public information sessions in several areas, and have “yet to find one person in favor” of wind turbines. That fact, coupled with the 1,200 names on the petitions, demonstrate that “Patrick County is strongly opposed to wind turbines,” he said.
Eutsler read a portion of the board’s minutes from the Nov. 29, 2004 meeting in which about “25 people appeared and spoke in opposition to an abandoned structures ordinance.”
“Mr. Martin advised that most people in Patrick County take a lot of pride in their property and that dumping tires, trailers and trash on land devalues their neighbor’s property,” the minutes stated.
Eutsler said Martin appeared to be concerned two years ago about how the actions of some property owners could affect other property owners’ land values and rights.
“If you were interested in November 2004 why are you are not still interested?” Eutsler asked.
Martin did not respond to the question.
Kay Eutsler read a letter from Deborah Quesinberry asking the board to support the tall structures ordinance. Quesinberry cited several studies on the health issues of wind turbines, including those by the United Kingdom Noise Association and France’s National Academy of Medicine. She noted that one study recommends that any wind turbines be located with 1.5-mile setbacks from residences and that everyone within three miles be notified of noise-related health issues.
“We need to protect our communities from ill effects of these turbines, and if you vote these things in we need to have strict guidelines for the health and safety of those having to endure living with them,” Quesinberry wrote. “I would like to point out that we have a constitutional right to safety so please keep us safe.”
Monday read a letter from Thomas Underwood Jr., stating that he will probably not move to Patrick County because it has a Wal-Mart.
Underwood also said the tall structures ordinance is not necessary and is not in the best interest of landowners.
By Nancy Lindsey