ST. LUCIE COUNTY – Facing the possibility of two commissioners withdrawing support for its wind turbines, Florida Power & Light Co. pulled out of a planned state meeting set for today.
The decision came after commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to send a letter to the state Acquisition and Restoration Council, which oversees the use of public land, telling them they shouldn’t consider the turbine proposal until the county has weighed in. FPL is seeking to place six turbines on its own land on Hutchinson Island and another three on state owned land at Blind Creek Park that is leased by the county.
“Hopefully this will allow us the time to proceed in a good faith effort to work first with the St. Lucie County Commission on this important clean energy project,” said Eric Silagy, vice president of development for FPL, in a letter to Commission Chair Joe Smith. Silagy requested immediate permission to take soil samples from the property and wants to appear again before commissions sometime in advance of the state council’s next meeting April 10 and 11.
DEP gave FPL permission to seek soil samples at Blind Creek on Wednesday, but the company must still get commission approval, said Amy Brunjes, a company spokeswoman.
Commissioner Chris Craft, who has been supportive of the idea of wind turbines but was one of two commissioners who threatened to withdraw support for the project unless the county was consulted first, said Wednesday he wanted to meet with county staff to decide where to go next.
“I think the next step should be a detailed workshop with the public,” he said. “We’re on our own schedule. We need to make sure we’re getting answers to the questions that not only we have, but that the public has. Once we get that and we have a comfort level, we will decide when to move forward.”
Julie Zahniser, founder of the Save St. Lucie Alliance that opposes the project, said she was pleased the issue wasn’t going before the state immediately and agreed with Craft’s suggestion of a public workshop.
“We believe as people learn the facts, support for industrial wind evaporates,” she said. “I would like to see the county sponsor educational meetings about how much power this is going to generate, get in to the science and math.”
County Administrator Doug Anderson said, contrary to FPL’s suggestion, he would not make a decision on taking soil samples from the land without the permission of the county commission. He confirmed county staff are still reviewing FPL’s plans and nothing is set to go on a county commission agenda at this point.
Making the rounds among commissioners Wednesday was internal DEP e-mails that confirmed the agency had decided by Jan. 31 to put FPL on its February meeting agenda and alludes to a meeting coming up with FPL’s attorney. The company maintained it didn’t know it was actually on the agenda until last week and notified the county within 15 minutes.
Commissioners and Anderson have been upset with the company’s contention that they have been holding up the process and were angry over the short notification about the ARC meeting.
Commissioner Doug Coward, who unsuccessfully tried to get commissioners to vote against allowing the turbines at Blind Creek on Tuesday, declined to comment on the issue Wednesday. Commissioners Paula Lewis and Charles Grande could not be reached for comment.
Smith said he felt it was improper to vote on any of the issues Tuesday without more information and while he said he isn’t sure a workshop would be the best way to handle the issue, he said there will be a full public hearing sometime in the future.
“As far as the county is concerned, we’ve done our best whether they like the position or not, we do our best to be fair to all parties,” he said.
Residents crowded into commission chambers for a daylong meeting Tuesday dominated by the turbines, with most of the crowd vocally against the project and some carrying signs or wearing shirts to show their discontent.
By Derek Simmonsen
13 February 2008
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