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Turbine plan switch 'didn't solve anything' for Hutchinson Island  

HUTCHINSON ISLAND – Florida Power & Light Co. has changed where it wants to put wind turbines on the island, but the company still faces a number of hurdles – including some firmly-opposed residents – before it can make the plan a reality.

FPL dropped its bid Wednesday to put the machines at Frederick Douglass and John Brooks parks and instead wants to place three turbines on an undeveloped parcel co-owned by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. That land was purchased in the 1980s for conservation purposes and has been leased to the county, which manages it, said Sarah Williams, a DEP spokeswoman.

The original proposal ran into problems in part because John Brooks park was set aside for conservation purposes and Frederick Douglass park had restrictions on it that seemed to prohibit anything but public recreation there, according to an analysis by County Attorney Dan McIntyre. He couldn’t be reached Thursday regarding the new proposal.

“They didn’t solve anything, they just shifted the problem,” said County Commissioner Doug Coward. “They’ve shifted it from one conservation land to another.”

Sharon Bennett, an FPL spokeswoman, said in response to Coward’s comments that the company is looking into the legal issues surrounding the parcel, but has received “good initial feedback” from the state so far.

FPL first must go before the Acquisition and Restoration Council, an advisory group that gives recommendations to the state on what land should be purchased and how it should be used, Williams said. The water district holds a smaller interest in the property and is deferring to DEP on the matter at this point, she said.

If the council likes FPL’s proposal, the county then would have to weigh in before any final approval is given, Williams said. The council’s next meeting is in mid-February, but it is not known if the turbines will be on the agenda, she said.

FPL’s proposal has caused heated debate among residents, some of whom have told commissioners they want to see the new technology come to the county and others who raised concerns about noise, negative environmental problems and the visual impact of the structures.

“My major concern all along and my major concern continues to be not building these wind turbines on any public land that has been earmarked for conservation,” said Dickie Brooks, daughter of John Brooks, the park’s namesake. “Hopefully FPL can find a property which is acceptable to as many people as possible. I don’t know yet whether this is the one. We’ll see.”

Bob Ashley, outgoing president of the Indian River Drive Freeholders said he has not heard one resident of the drive come out in favor of the proposal. Members were set to meet Thursday night to discuss the issue, though the Freeholders board has already come out against the machines.

Residents have cited myriad reasons: concerns about lowering property values, problems with them being on public land, worries about animals and the environment being harmed and the visual look of them, Ashley said.

“In general, everybody seems to be against it one way or another,” he said.

Commissioner Paula Lewis and Commission Chairman Joe Smith both have said they want to learn more about the new site. Coward said Thursday he isn’t necessarily opposed to the turbines on public land, but does oppose placing them on any land set aside for conservation.

If there aren’t legal obstacles to doing so, Commissioner Chris Craft said he wouldn’t have a problem placing turbines on conservation land, as he sees the alternative energy source as a way of helping the environment. Craft said there are some benefits to the new site over the former ones: the turbines would be closer together, away from homes and not at public beach access points, but there are still many questions left about environmental impacts and other concerns.

“The debate we’re still having is, is this the right technology for this area, regardless of whether it’s on private or public land,” he said. “We just need to take some time and get these answers.”

? Florida Power & Light Co. formerly wanted to place five wind turbines on its own property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant and four on public land at John Brooks and Frederick Douglass parks. The new proposal would have six on FPL property and three on a single parcel of land co-owned by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District.

? The turbines, which would be the first of their kind in Florida, would be mounted on steel towers and reach up to 417 feet tall, measured from the ground to the top of a blade when they are at their peak in their rotation. FPL has said it picked St. Lucie for the project because it has a plant in the county, there is open land on the coast, and the commission has been supportive of alternative energy.

By Derek Simmonsen

TCPalm

18 January 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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