ST. LUCIE COUNTY – In the future, going to catch a few waves or taking the dog for a walk at Walton Rocks beach might involve driving past a wind turbine first.
Although public lands are no longer being considered for Florida Power & Light Co.’s wind turbines proposal, three of the remaining six machines would be near public beach access at Walton Rocks. All six are proposed for FPL property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.
Although FPL officials said Tuesday they would keep public access to the site, it remains a concern for the Treasure Coast chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to conservation efforts to protect beaches and the ocean. Walton Rocks is a popular surfing spot and Andy Brady, the chapter’s current chairman, said he’s been riding waves there for about 30 years.
“We said from the very beginning Walton Rocks would be the big battle,” Brady said.
His group remains concerned about the effect the project could have on wetlands and native wildlife, and Brady said he worries the structures, with a 20-foot high concrete base, would damage the dunes on the beachfront and pose a danger during hurricanes. Hundreds of people have signed petitions against the plan, according to the group.
“People in St. Lucie County enjoy having natural habitat,” he said. “I just can’t imagine what it’d be like if they put the turbines in there.”
FPL owns the Walton Rocks property and began leasing it to the county for public use in December 1986. The 20-year lease expired and was not renewed by the county, though FPL has continued to allow public access to the area, according to county and company officials.
“It wasn’t intentional,” said County Administrator Doug Anderson, who said the county typically has a system in place to remind employees when contracts need to be renewed. This lease agreement slipped through the cracks and Anderson said it was a mistake that won’t occur again.
Julie Zahniser, who runs the Save St. Lucie Alliance, an organization opposed to the turbines, has criticized the county for not renewing the Walton Rocks lease. “It should be a public resource. It should be something that the county tries very hard to lease again,” she said.
Both Zahniser and Brady said their organizations would continue to hold meetings and lobby commissioners about the project in the coming months, as the turbines are reviewed by the county’s growth management department before eventually going before the Planning and Zoning Commission prior to getting a full County Commission hearing. Though opponents have been vocal in their concerns about the project – e-mailing commissioners, speaking during public meetings and posting signs along Indian River Drive – the turbines do have their supporters.
Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, said Tuesday he thinks the technology would be good for the area, so long as concerns about birds, sea turtles and other wildlife can be addressed. He said he hopes the discussion of turbines will branch out into other areas of renewable energy, as well.
“It’s the effort by the power company to look into and invest in some of these types of technologies,” Perry said. “It’s much better than having a coal or another nuclear plant.”
FPL has said its studies show there is enough wind on the land to make the project feasible and there would be no harm to sea turtles or other wildlife in the area, though bird studies are not yet complete. The company also says the machines would not be a danger to the nuclear plant or the nearby Sands condominiums.
• Commissioner Chris Craft, who once talked excitedly about the possibility of the project, said he is completely against the turbines now because he doesn’t feel the savings to the environment are significant enough to make the effort worthwhile.
• Commissioner Doug Coward, who strongly opposed the use of turbines on public conservation land, said he remains “skeptical” about the project, but doesn’t plan to take a public stance on the issue until it formally comes before the commission.
• Commissioner Charles Grande, who hasn’t taken a public stance on any part of the project, said he felt a lot of attention has been spent on “non-issues” such as noise and is anxious to have a discussion on more important aspects of the project, such as whether it is actually viable on Hutchinson Island, he said.
• Commissioner Paula Lewis, who was against putting turbines in Blind Creek Park, said she is still researching the larger issue of wind turbines and has several questions left unanswered. She may take a tour, unescorted by FPL officials, to see the turbines in Texas, she said.
• Commissioner Joe Smith, the only commissioner to tour FPL Energy’s wind farm near Abilene, Texas, said he won’t announce a public position on the project until it actually comes before the board for a formal vote. Until then, he said he is willing to have an open dialogue with anyone on the project, so long as people don’t “throw out red herrings” or use incorrect information.
By Derek Simmonsen
19 March 2008
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