Seven West Virginia landowners in the Grant County area want their nuisance suit against the NedPower/Shell wind turbine project located adjacent to the Dominion Mount Storm Power Plant heard in a circuit court. A circuit court previously denied their request and the matter is now before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The high court heard arguments in the case Tuesday in the Hampshire County Courthouse during LAWS Day.
LAWS, an acronym for Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students, is a partnership between the court system, schools, the Bar and the community, said Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis as she opened the session welcoming students, teachers and the general public.
“LAWS teaches high school and college students about the legal system,” she said, noting that since she began the program in 1999, more than 2,400 high school and college students in 14 counties have participated.
Davis introduced the sitting justices hearing the case, Elliott Maynard, Joseph Albright and Brent Benjamin. She added that Justice Larry Starcher was recovering from surgery and unable to attend the arguments but that he would be considering the decision with the other members of the court.
Four cases of regional interest, including the wind power case, were argued before the court as part of the program.
Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the Supreme Court, said that while the cases are chosen at random they try to select those that have some connection to the area in which the court is presiding for the LAWS program.
Tuesday’s cases also included two criminal cases from Morgan County and one involving a constitutional question about Sunday hunting in Ritchie County. The arguments were heard by students from Potomac State College and high schools in Pendleton, Hampshire and Hardy counties, as well as the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.
The first case on the docket was the wind case with former Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely representing the landowners and attorneys Samuel Brock and Christopher Callas representing Shell WindEnergy and NedPower, respectively.
Neely was first in the podium and told the justices that his clients all live within one mile of the project which is to include 200 turbines on towers of 100 meters in height.
His arguments focused on NedPower not being a “real utility,” and not part of a regulated utility. “It is, in fact, a boondoggle,” he said.
Neely went on to say that what his clients want is to be heard in court and a record made of the nuisance they see the project as being and its impact on the value of their property.
The justices questioned whether Neely wanted them to halt the project and if so, for how long did he envision the circuit court proceedings to take. Neely responded that he would envision the process to be quick – about three to four months.
The justices also questioned why Neely’s clients could not wait to seek damages until after the project is completed.
Specifically, Benjamin asked, “How can monetary damages not compensate for loss?”
Brock said that the real issue of the case is narrow and focuses not on a request for damages but to stop the project. He said the company disputes the claim that there will be property damage involving the landowners.
Maynard said he sees little difference between the wind project and other things people don’t necessarily want in their backyards, such as a landfill.
At the end of the arguments, Davis said the court would consider the matter and issue an opinion.
Jennifer Bundy of the communications office of the high court said that the court tries to issue opinions in the LAWS cases prior to the end of the school year so that the students have an opportunity to review and discuss the cases further.
Students and teachers have already reviewed the case briefs in class prior to the court’s hearing the arguments.
Following the presentation of the wind case, Brock said that he was pleased with the reception he received from the high court and believes they will consider the case favorably.
Students from Moorefield High School heard the arguments and met with the attorneys following their presentations.
“They were a little slow getting started but once they got started they asked a lot of good questions for about the next 45 minutes,” said Brock.
Also on hand for the arguments were members of the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Wind Power, a group that includes a number of residents and others that have voiced opposition to the project.
By Mona Ridder
18 April 2007
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