Opponents of a proposed Highland County wind farm cite danger to migratory birds and spoiled scenic vistas, but they are basing their court challenge on a much more mundane issue: whether officials followed proper procedures in approving the project.
David S. Bailey, an attorney for the opponents, told the Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday that “everything in this case is backward and out of order.”
The county’s Board of Supervisors approved a conditional-use permit allowing construction of 19 towering wind turbines, despite strong opposition at public hearings. Bailey said governmental reviews leading to the approval were not completed in the correct sequence.
Gregory J. Haley, an attorney for the state’s most sparsely populated county, disagreed and urged the court to affirm a lower court’s ruling that officials acted properly.
“They did an amazing job for a small county,” Haley said.
Also at issue is whether the opponents erred by not specifically naming the Board of Supervisors in its lawsuit.
Highland New Wind Development, led by retired poultry businessman Henry T. McBride of Harrisonburg, wants to build Virginia’s first utility-grade wind farm on an unforested ridge at the 4,400-foot elevation where the headwaters of three watersheds converge.
The 400-foot turbines–taller than the Statue of Liberty _ would generate about 39 megawatts of electricity, which proponents say is enough to power 15,000 to 20,000 homes. In contrast, a third nuclear reactor being contemplated by Dominion Resources at its North Anna plant would generate about 1,500 megawatts of power.
Proponents of the wind farm hail it as a source of clean energy that can help stem global warming and rising fuel prices. Haley also said the project could mean up to $325,000 a year in additional tax revenue for a 25,000-resident county that needs light industry.
Critics say the turbines’ blades would kill migratory birds and bats, and that the massive towers topped by flashing lights would hurt tourism by discouraging visits from bird-watchers and astronomers who prize the remote area’s dark skies.
“The No. 1 objection is the fact that this is an industrial intrusion into an otherwise unique natural environment,” said Patti Reum, who operates a mountaintop retreat popular with naturalists near the approximately 200-acre wind farm site.
Reum and Ken Schaal, a solar contractor, are among the Highland citizens challenging the project in court. They attended Thursday’s hearing.
“The emphasis on wind energy is a distraction,” Schaal said afterward, adding that more emphasis should be placed on conservation.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in September.
By Larry O’Dell
Associated Press Writer
7 June 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding