The debate over proposed windmills being placed in Randolph and Barbour counties came to the Elkins City Council meeting Thursday night. Although a proposed ordinance to express council’s opposition to the AES’ Laurel Mountain windmill farm project was on the agenda, council took no action.
The resolution was not prepared for council to take a vote and a debate started within the crowd following a informational presentation by West Virginia Green Energy Alliance representative Joel Martin.
“There has been a fairly focused campaign to distribute information that is not accurate,” Martin said. “The project will not lead to a disaster on the mountains.”
Martin presented council with a photo from the top of Laurel Mountain to show what he said the mountains would look like from a distance. He said 150 acres were to be cleared and a single access road would be built across the top of the Laurel ridge.
“Wind power is not visible from a distance,” Martin said. “This is a logical place for wind power. It is the premier wind resource area east of the Mississippi.”
Martin said the windmills are a “real industry” that will bring real benefits to Elkins, Randolph and Barbour counties. He said there would be no need for expanding any infrastructure for the windmills.
“I have found no instance of a working wind farm being abandoned,” Martin said.
Councilman Rob Beckwith, 1st Ward, had many questions for Martin that gained an applause from members of the audience who oppose the windmills.
“These are our mountain tops. They belong to us. They are visual pollution,” Beckwith said. “These pictures are ammunition for me.”
Beckwith also asked Martin what affects the windmills would have on the ecology and environment.
“I cannot guarantee that there will be no destruction,” Martin responded. “There has been no destruction on our ecology from timbering or mountain roads.”
Another one of Beckwith’s concerns was noise from the windmills. Martin said in areas where there are windmills people say there is no noise and that they “find them graceful.”
“There is no other significant green energy that could go into effect next year,” Martin said. “The planet is in trouble and we as a species need to do something about it.”
Beckwith responded and got an applause from the crowd, “Not in my backyard. I do not want visual pollution in my backyard.”
Councilman Danny Satterfield, 5th Ward, asked Martin what the benefit to the area would be and Martin responded “money and jobs.”
According to Martin, there would be construction jobs and nine or 10 permanent jobs that would be created by the windmills and that money would trickle into the economy. He said that the area would see an approximate $855,000 income in taxes.
AES Development Manager Barry Sweitzer also spoke to council and fielded questions. Sweitzer said clearing space for windmills is no different from clearing space for a Walgreens or a Wal-Mart.
“March 14 is the deadline to become an interferer with the PSC (West Virginia Public Service Commission). The PSC will accept public comment for 300 days. We submitted our application in January so they will accept public comment for 300 days.”
An interferer would be anyone who would want to become part of the case and hire a lawyer to represent them in the hearings.
At approximately 8:25 p.m. Mayor Judy Guye closed the informational presentation and began public comment. The public comment period carried on to the windmill discussion with many people speaking against the proposed project.
Members of Laurel Mountain Preservation Association, Arthur Dodds Jr., an aeronautical cartographer, and his wife, Dr. Pamela Dodds, Ph.D, a registered professional geologist, both have stated opposition to the windmills in the past and was on hand at the meeting to state their side of the debate.
“The windmills will remove 9.6 miles of ridge tops,” Arthur Dodds said. “The wind is volatile. Over small increments the wind changes dramatically.
According to Dodds, the windmills will use more power from the grids because they use the power to keep turning during periods of low wind. Dodds also stated that the ridges are a key part to the food chain and any changes in the food chain could have adverse affects on the ecology of the area.
“The windmills will be put in a very precise environmental location,” Dodds said. “The wind farm in Tucker County kills 4,000 endangered tree bats a year.”
A Barbour County resident who did not identify himself said there have been many wind farms in the past fail and that AES was not the only company wanting to construct wind farms in West Virginia. He also said there would be no reduction in the use of coal in the state.
Sweitzer interrupted and said the windmills will offset the amount of coal needed in the future. He said the need for electric will continue to rise and the windmills could bare some of the load causing less coal to be used to create power.
Elkins resident Joe Sabatino urged the Council to file and intervene in the case.
“I have talked to landowners near windmills and they said they are noisy and there has been a decrease in clean water.”
Elkins resident Heather Biola stated a very emotional case against the windmills.
“We are going to have an impact on our environment,” Biola said. “In the long term there will be significant environmental problems.”
As Biola continued she spoke louder into the microphone and was very emotional about the fact that money generated by the project would not stay in the area.
After Biola finished, Mayor Judy Guye ended the public comment period to move on to the rest of the agenda.
On the agenda there was “Proposed Resolution No. 107, expressing council’s position concerning the proposed Laurel Mountain windmill farm project,” but Mayor Guye informed Council that the the resolution was not ready in time for the meeting.
Beckwith then said he was going to make another motion. “I move Council for the mayor to contact the PSC in opposition to the Laurel Mountain Wind Project.”
Councilman Bob Woolwine, 1st Ward, seconded the motion but Councilman Karen Wilmoth, 4th Ward, said, “This is not appropriate because it is not a prepared resolution.”
Councilman Tom Hensil, 2nd Ward, agreed with Wilmoth and said he would like to see a deadline to file opposition with the PSC and call a special meeting before that day to discuss the resolution. Councilman Duke Talbott, 4th Ward, and Councilwoman Hazel Burford, 2nd Ward, both agreed that a special meeting would be best.
“If we need to we can call a special meeting Monday or Tuesday,” Hensil said.
City Clerk Phil Graziani asked Beckwith what exactly he wanted to do and said Council could intervene in the case which would make them privy to the case but the city would have to pay for an attorney.
“That would be more of a cost,” Beckwith said. “I would like to see a resolution.”
Burford said, “We have to file something. There is no sense worrying about the 13th or 14th for an intervention.”
During the discussion Pam Dodds attempted to approach the microphone to speak but Guye would not allow her to.
Beckwith rescinded his motion after Guye said she would check with the PSC for the dates for council to to file opposition.
By Anthony Gaynor
7 March 2008
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