There is scarcely a citizenry anywhere more knowledgeable on the subject of wind energy than the residents of Bath and Highland counties. Time and again they have been called to speak to the issue, whatever their position on it, and that challenge comes again Monday. This time around, it will be to share their knowledge and opinions with officials of the George Washington National Forest system.
“The Land of Many Uses” comprises half of Bath County, and a good portion of Highland, and according to the draft USFS plan, those many uses could end up including commercial wind generation.
In the draft, there is a map depicting areas of the forest dubbed “generally suitable” for such an industrial power source. USFS staff have chosen unfortunate words to describe the potential areas for commercial wind power in its districts.
Residents here will recall that a map classifying land use for wind turbines was a source of frustration before. It was generated by a working group of the Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative headquartered at James Madison University. It labeled certain areas of Virginia “unclassified” for wind energy because the potential impacts from such utilities had not yet been studied in these places, and argued assessment was needed before they could be classified.
Core VWEC members, however, disagreed with the working group’s emphasis on environmental study for unclassified areas, and apparently simply chose to call them “suitable” for wind energy until they were proven to be otherwise.
The end result was a split among working group members and some VWEC members. There are now two versions of the map.
The semantics at work here make a difference, and the USFS has done something similar with the map it includes in the forest plan. Certain parcels of federal property have been described as “generally suitable,” but according to national forest officials, what that means is simply that those areas have not yet been classified one way or the other.
If the USFS truly means to let the taxpayers guide that definition, and we believe it does, then it should say what it means – land is unclassified until it gets classified. Instead, the map showing high winds along most of Bath and Highland ridges will only be unnecessarily alarming to residents.
USFS personnel this week stated clearly that how industrialized wind power is used in the national forest, or whether it is used at all on these federal lands, is an issue that rests squarely on the shoulders of those who live in these mountains. It is up to the citizens and taxpayers to inform the USFS about wind energy, and many of them could do that effectively in their sleep by now.
Bath County residents, in particular, need to get involved immediately. Residents and planning officials have worked diligently to address potential wind utility development. It would seem futile to establish private property requirements on this industry only to have it flourish on the numerous ridges of the federal lands.
Monday’s meeting is the ideal time to address USFS officials who are planning land use on the national forest for the next decade. It will not be the only opportunity, but it’s an excellent forum in which to start the process, again, of pushing a big rock up a steep hill. If the proposal in Highland County for turbines on Allegheny Mountain is any indication, folks at the George Washington National Forest are in for a lengthy conversation that will require the assimilation of vast amounts of information. Let’s help bring them up to speed.
1 March 2007
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