Save St. Lucie Alliance targets Palm Beach County attorney to combat FPL project on Hutchinson Island
Public hearings on Florida Power & Light Co.’s wind turbine plan still are months away, but opponents already are gearing up for a serious fight.
The Save St. Lucie Alliance started a Legal Defense Fund this week in the hopes of hiring a land-use attorney who can represent residents opposed to putting six wind machines on FPL property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant. The group had raised $3,600 by Friday and has a goal of raising $10,000, which is the amount they estimate might be needed through a final County Commission hearing on the project.
“We’re leaving no stone unturned,” said Julie Zahniser, an Indian River Drive resident who leads the alliance. “We want to make sure we preserve our legal rights in the event the Board of County Commissioners approve it. Then we’ll be positioned to take it one step further.”
The group needs about $5,000 to get the attorney started and hopes to raise all the money it needs by the end of next week. In an e-mail to supporters, Zahniser said they had interviewed several attorneys and settled on a Palm Beach County land-use and environmental attorney who had the experience and contacts they were seeking.
Zahniser’s group is expecting a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in July, but a county spokesman was unable to confirm Friday that any dates had been set. In her e-mail, Zahniser wrote that if commissioners vote against the proposal, opponents will feel they have not only won a battle, but been victorious in the war against adding the technology to the island.
Also this week, a staff member in the sea turtle division at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent an e-mail to a turbine opponent raising concerns about the possible dangers to sea turtles in the area. The e-mail raises concerns about noise and motion from the turbines, as well as the possibility of light coming from the structures.
“FWC staff believes the wind turbines proposed by FPL could impact threatened and endangered sea turtles attempting to nest on adjacent beaches,” the e-mail states. “As a result, FWC will be an active player in the permitting process.”
However, the agency said Friday that it hasn’t reached any conclusions one way or the other about the risk to sea turtles and the e-mail was incorrect in hinting that it had, said Kipp Frohlich, section leader for Imperiled Species Management at FWC. Frohlich, who oversees the sea turtle section, said FWC will advise other agencies about its findings but doesn’t have any power to grant or deny permits.
FWC officials met with FPL in November and are in the process of giving the proposal a detailed review to see if there are any impacts on any wildlife, not just sea turtles, Frohlich said.
A FPL company spokeswoman said Friday there is no evidence or research to suggest the turbines would disrupt turtles or their nesting sites, and the turbines would be west of the dune line, away from nesting sites.
While opponents have been vocal against the turbines in e-mails to commissioners and during public meetings, more than 80 percent of county residents polled in a March phone survey commissioned by FPL said they would support the turbine plan on FPL property.
FPL has created a Web site compiling studies to counter claims made by opponents, most recently releasing a study done by WindLogics Inc., a company owned by FPL’s sister company FPL Energy, that projected the average wind speed would be enough to make the project work.
WIND TURBINE CONTROVERSY
• Florida Power & Light Co. wants to place six turbines on its Hutchinson Island property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant, including three turbines at Walton Rocks beach, which is FPL land but includes public access to the ocean.
• Three of five county
commissioners previously stated their opposition to turbines on state-owned land leased to the county, leading the company to withdraw those plans. So far, only Commissioner Chris Craft publicly has stated a position on the current proposal. He is against it.
• County staff is reviewing zoning and conditional-use permit requests, as well as a height variance, for the
project. The plans would go through Planning and Zoning Commission and then the County Commission for approval.
By Derek Simmonsen
17 May 2008
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