Those headed to West Virginia’s capital city this week for hearings on the Liberty Gap wind utility proposal came home early.
The state’s Public Service Commission was set to begin evidentiary hearings Tuesday morning on Liberty Gap LLC’s request for a permit to build a 50-megawatt wind energy facility on Jack Mountain in Pendleton County.
But at the last minute, the company realized it had not published public notices about the hearings as required by the PSC.
When it realized the error, Liberty Gap asked the PSC to postpone the hearings 30 days, and move the statutory deadline for the PSC’s final decision back 30 days as well.
The PSC denied that motion, and cancelled the evidentiary portion of the hearings, though it did receive limited public comment on the project Tuesday, and agreed to hear argument from all parties involved about how to proceed.
PSC had dismissed Liberty Gap’s request for a state permit a few months ago, and then reinstated the case Sept. 1 on certain conditions. One of those included a procedural schedule with pre-filed testimony deadlines. Since then, both the wind energy developer and the formal intervenors (those opposed to the project) have gone through legal discovery, submitted testimony from consultants and experts on the issues involved, and prepared for this week’s hearings.
Monday, the day before the hearings were to start, Liberty Gap notified the PSC its attorney had failed to publish a legal notice in local newspapers, and said it was concerned members of the public may be denied the opportunity to attend the hearings. The company asked for 30 more days, or as an alternative, stated the PSC could go ahead with the hearings as scheduled since a news article in the Pendleton Times had provided notice to residents in a report on the proceedings.
The PSC said the lack of proper legal notice “leaves the commission no choice but to continue the hearing to another date. The newspaper article “¦ does not cure the lack of notice because, among other things, no similar article was published in the Charleston, Kanawha County, newspapers “¦ The 30-day continuance that Liberty Gap requests is not possible. The commission’s schedule will not accommodate rescheduling this hearing within 30 days.”
Larry Thomas, an intervenor in the case, drove to Charleston for the hearings Monday. He reported that only three people made brief comments on Liberty Gap’s application, and then PSC officials discussed what to do next.
Ultimately, the commission agreed to reschedule the hearings to begin Monday, April 16, and said Saturdays or evenings would be used as needed to complete the process. The deadline for PSC’s decision on the permit would then be June 22.
Thomas said PSC officials also asked Liberty Gap what should be done about the expenses incurred by those involved already, and the company agreed to reimburse “reasonable costs” like airline fares and gas mileage.
“We got it as best as we could expect,” Thomas said. If the case had been dismissed again, he reasoned, Liberty Gap would only have reapplied, meaning those intervening would amass further expense on the case. “I’m not sure how much more money we can raise,” he said. “I think we’re satisfied (about the continuance) and we’ll see what happens.”
By Anne Adams “¢ Staff Writer
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding