ST. LUCIE COUNTY – Several commissioners asked Florida Power & Light Co. Tuesday not to present information to the state about its wind turbine project until the county weighs in on it.
The company wants to place six turbines on property its own at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant and three on state-owned land at Blind Creek Park that is leased by the county. The Acquisition and Restoration Council, a state agency affiliated with the Department of Environmental Protection that oversees the use of public conservation lands and makes recommendations on new lands for purchase, will discuss the project Thursday in Tallahassee and make a decision regarding it Friday.
In advance of that meeting, the issue was added late to today’s county commission meeting agenda. Commissioner chambers were packed with residents this morning, some wearing red or orange shirts to show their opposition to the project and some carrying signs, for and against wind turbines.
Public comment began late in the morning and is likely to continue into the afternoon.
Commissioner Chris Craft suggested giving FPL a firm date to come before the commission for a full hearing if the company would withdraw from the state meeting this week.
“This is, in my opinion, one of the most important discussions that this board has ever had,” Craft said.
County Attorney Dan McIntyre said state officials told him there was “direction from above” to keep the turbines on the state agenda, but he thought the county should have its say before the state. McIntyre also said he didn’t think having the turbines on a day agenda was the right way to go.
“This isn’t the right way to do this,” he said. “If we were going to do this sort of thing we should do it with a night meeting with adequate notice and give everyone the opportunity to speak for and against.”
Commissioner Doug Coward said based on McIntyre’s recommendation against the project, because it was purchased in part with county conservation money, he was against the Blind Creek site.
Eric Silagy, vice president of development for FPL, said the company would give the community three acres of conservation land for every one acre that it uses for the turbines. He said the company has been trying to bring the issue before the County Commission for months, but has been repeatedly taken off agendas.
“All we ask for is an opportunity to come before this commission and have a full evidentiary hearing,” he said.
Fort Pierce Mayor Bob Benton sent a letter to the commission urging them to oppose the project and Fort Pierce City Commissioner Christine Coke also spoke out against it.
Julie Zahniser, founder of the Save St. Lucie Alliance which is against the project, said her research has shown it is not a “green” technology and she has many concerns about the turbines.
“They create an enormous amount of harm,” she said, adding as a mother she was worried about the impact on her 4-year-old twins. “This is personal for me. I feel like I’m fighting for my family.”
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The South Florida Water Management District, which owns roughly a third of the land, told DEP there were a few concerns about the project, but they could be minimized by lessening the effects on coastal dune habitat and making sure public access is not restricted.
“As you would expect however, even if these actions are taken the proposed project will probably be highly controversial from an aesthetic and possibly environmental perspective and there will likely be dissatisfaction expressed by certain members of the public for allowing FPL to utilize property purchased with public dollars for what could be perceived as a private purpose,” wrote Steve Coughlin, director of the water management district’s land stewardship division, in an e-mail.
He suggested FPL might offer land back to the state in exchange for the use of the property, which the company has already proposed doing.
In an e-mail to its members, the St. Lucie Chamber of Commerce recommended the commissioners not make a decision Tuesday, but wait until they have more information on the project. “It is not in the best interests of the citizens of St. Lucie County to have their Commissioners make any hasty decision tomorrow on the future of clean energy in the county without receiving more information, hearing the facts and having a full presentation made by FPL,” the e-mail states.
The e-mail notes it is easier to rally opponents to a cause rather than bring people in support of a project out in force and said commissioners need to be reminded “there is another side to the story and reasonable people are genuinely interested in considering the opportunities that wind energy can provide to our region and the state of Florida.”
Coward, who opposes the project on public conservation land, encouraged residents opposed to the project to come out and speak during today’s meeting. McIntyre has recommended commissioners not approve the project because the Blind Creek land was purchased with money set aside for conservation.
By Derek Simmonsen
12 February 2008
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