The issue that roared into Patrick County like a windstorm almost a year ago blew away Monday like a gentle breeze.
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted to pass a tall structures ordinance that will prohibit the construction of 400-foot wind turbines on the county’s mountain ridges. Telecommunications towers and church steeples are exempt from the tall structures ban.
The vote was in response to the results of a survey mailed to real estate owners along with their tax statements last fall. When county officials tallied the surveys in January, they announced that the tall structures ordinance was supported by 73.7% of the voters with 26.3% opposed.
Peters Creek District Supervisor David Young, board chairman, said at the January meeting that four members had said they would be bound by the outcome of the survey, even though it was not legally binding.
The ordinance was advertised minus a six-month “sunset clause,” and on Monday it passed by a vote of 4 to 1.
Mayo River District Supervisor Danny Foley made the motion to adopt the ordinance. Also voting in favor were Young; Dan River District Supervisor Jonathan Large; and Smith River District Crystal Harris.
The dissenting vote was cast by Blue Ridge District Supervisor Roger Martin, who has supported the wind turbines and opposed any ordinance banning them since the possibility was made public in March 2006.
Martin reiterated his opinion that banning wind turbines amounts to “taking property without just compensation” and violates the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions. He said the wind turbines would have made it possible for landowners to “make a significant amount of money” by leasing their land to wind energy companies. He said he had contacted someone in the Great Lakes area who was getting $6,500 a year renting his land for turbines.
“I think this ordinance has the potential to cost the county a lot of money,” Martin said, “and I think it’s illegal.”
County Attorney Eric Monday said before the vote was taken that the ordinance had been advertised in accordance with the Code of Virginia and that a public hearing was not required before its adoption. He said it was “no different than a leash law” in terms of the legal requirements. There was no requirement that adjacent landowners be notified, as there is in some cases, because the ordinance applies to all of Patrick County, Monday said.
The issue has been debated or discussed in almost every supervisors’ meeting since it arose last spring, when the county learned that Community Energy Inc. was exploring the possibility of locating wind turbines on Bull Mountain, Belcher Mountain, and the Mountain View area of Meadows of Dan. The company has never publicly committed to a project in Patrick County, and CEI officials said last year that they were still assessing the wind resource in the county.
Opponents of the wind turbines, led by Save Our Appalachian Ridges (SOAR), lobbied throughout 2006 for passage of an ordinance to keep them out of Patrick County.
SOAR members and other citizens spoke during the public input session, prior to the vote on the ordinance.
Jackie Davenport said she was appearing at the meeting “to speak out against these monsters,” referring to the wind turbines. She asked the supervisors if they were going to abide by the wishes of the people. “I don’t want to see this beautiful county desecrated,” she said.
“I said I would be bound” by the survey results, Young said, and Foley concurred.
“I think we all, with the exception of Mr. Martin, are going to vote for the ordinance,” Harris said.
Davenport told Martin that she appreciated his “looking out for the landowners,” but said, in this case, “truth might be standing on its head.”
Gary Johnson, chief of the resource planning division of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said he wanted to let the board know that “the Blue Ridge Parkway is looking at this issue with great interest because of its implications on other localities along the parkway.”
Johnson said the issue should not be taken lightly, and he appreciated the seriousness with which the supervisors approached it.
Steve Sims said he was the man who advised the board to “go to the public” by conducting a survey. “I’m hoping y’all will listen to the public and vote accordingly,” Sims said.
Gloria Hilton said SOAR and others “really appreciate all you have done to listen to the people and vote as the people” wanted. “Thanks for a job well done,” she said.
Marcia Ardisonne said she was “impressed with the professionalism of most of the board.”
Scott Eutsler said he appreciated the way the board studied the topic of industrial wind development in Patrick County and took action based on the people’s wishes and the need to preserve the county’s resources.
Eutsler said no one could deny that there is an energy shortage, but he thought using “high-tech industrial wind” is not the solution to the problem. It’s like using high-tech methods to cure the common cold when chicken soup works just as well, he said.
Eutsler said he is actually a proponent of wind energy on a non-industrial scale, such as smaller windmills to provide electricity for a few homes–or a town the size of Stuart.
Future generations will thank the board for the action it took, Eutsler said.
“The board made a hard decision, but it was the right decision,” he said.
By Nancy Lindsey
14 February 2007