St. Lucie County commissioners’ support for Florida Power & Light Co.’s push to build wind turbines on public land appeared to cool during a daylong debate Tuesday.
But commissioners did not vote to endorse or oppose FPL’s plan to build nine electricity-producing turbines on Hutchinson Island – six on company property and three on state land managed by the county.
Instead, they decided to ask the state to delay a public hearing scheduled for Thursday in Tallahassee before a state committee that will hear FPL’s request to lease the Blind Creek property needed for the three turbines.
They weren’t optimistic that the hearing would be put off before the Acquisition and Restoration Council, an advisory committee with representatives of several state agencies.
As dozens of protesters carried signs in the parking lot of the county administration building, the commission chambers were packed mostly with opponents of the plan to build 400-foot-tall turbines atop 10- to 20-foot concrete pedestals along St. Lucie’s beachfront.
Early in the meeting, St. Lucie County Attorney Dan McIntyre said FPL and the state advisory council would be overstepping their authority by considering a lease for turbines at Blind Creek.
The property is owned by the state and the South Florida Water Management District but leased to and managed by the county, which contributed $3.6 million toward the purchase.
“Under the rules, FPL needs the county’s approval before it even applies to the state for this lease,” McIntyre said. “The county has not consented to this.”
He said council staff told him they can’t remove the item from Thursday’s agenda because of “direction from above.”
FPL or the state should withdraw the application to give commissioners time to schedule discussion at a night meeting with more notice to the public, McIntyre said.
FPL Vice President Eric Silagy said he wouldn’t ask that the public hearing be canceled unless commissioners gave him a date they would discuss FPL’s plan and allow soil tests on the Blind Creek property.
Commissioners wouldn’t set that date.
“We’re disappointed we weren’t able to get a date for further discussion,” Silagy said.
Commissioners Chris Craft and Charles Grande said they won’t support FPL’s plan unless the company withdraws from Thursday’s meeting.
“My support is gone if they move ahead with the state,” Craft said.
Grande said, “I’ll be against anything to do with this project.”
He has been viewed as FPL’s best friend on the commission after he suggested the company could use public property for the windmills.
Craft said he has no real problem with using public land but wants to know whether public benefits outweigh the loss of such property.
Commissioner Doug Coward, most outspoken against the use of conservation land, made a motion that the county oppose use of Blind Creek or other property purchased for preservation or recreation. That motion died for lack of a second.
FPL’s Silagy said he learned only Thursday that the state had scheduled the discussion and immediately notified County Administrator Doug Anderson.
“Our attorneys disagree with McIntyre’s interpretation,” he said.
“We require approval from both the county and state, but the state moved faster,” he said. “Nothing the state does precludes the county from acting on our rezoning application.”
He said FPL now believes it will require only 4 acres of state land, not the 6.3 acres previously stated. The company has offered to donate 12 acres of land to replace the 4 required for the windmills.
FPL has offered to pay St. Lucie millions to lease the land, which would help the county as it deals with budget cuts.
Outside the county building, protesters represented both sides of the debate.
Opponents wore orange shirts with the slogan “FPL Don’t Blow It,” while proponents held signs reading “Wind is clean and green” and “Wind is pollution free.”
By Jim Reeder
13 February 2008
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