A community forum on the pros and cons of wind turbines along the Virginia-West Virginia border will be held tonight at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock.
The Shenandoah Forum, a group of central Valley residents working to foster discussion about growth and development in Shenandoah County, is hosting the event, which will run from 7 to 9 p.m.
The discussion was triggered in March by a proposal by FreedomWorks LLC, a renewable-energy firm from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to study the impact of constructing 130 440-foot wind turbines in George Washington National Forest, said Rosemary Wallinger, chairman of the Forum.
Freedom Works requested the Federal Aviation Administration look into the plan. The FAA is one of the regulatory bodies involved in wind farm proposals. The proposal also would need the approval of the U.S. Forest Service.
Goal An ‘Informed’ Public
The study is the first of many hurdles the company would have to jump to build its turbines on public land in Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. The approval process could take two to three years, according to officials familiar with the plan.
“Our goal is to provide the community with two things: sources we consider authoritative and accurate, and to provide a format for people to ask questions and get answers so that they can make informed decisions,” said Wallinger.
Tonight’s forum will feature a point-counterpoint format with presentations by environmental consultant and policy analyst Dan Boone, as well as Frank Maisono, spokesman for MidWind, an ad-hoc group of mid-Atlantic wind developers. FreedomWorks is a member of MidWind.
“My role is simply to provide information and alternative analysis,” said Boone, formerly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s up to the people to decide whether the pros and cons match up.”
David Carr of the Southern Environmental Law Center also will speak about the legal issues involved in the proposal and the opportunities for public involvement in FreedomWorks’ permitting process. Carr will also cover the public’s role in the ensuing update of George Washington National Forest’s management plan.
A question-and-answer session will follow the presentations.
Local Support ‘Essential’
FreedomWorks declined to speak at the event, said Tim Williamson, managing director for the company, citing the company’s intention to provide a series of community meetings following approval of the plan.
“We understand that gaining local support is essential to the viability of the project,” Williamson said.
The arguments for and against the turbines run the gamut from cleaner, domestic energy, to ecological and aesthetic concerns for local hiking trails and the region’s many Civil War battlefields.
“Our organization is very much in favor of alternative energy … that includes wind,” said Jim Murray, president of the Virginia Wildlife Committee, an organization that has close ties with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “However, we think some places are inappropriate, specifically the high ridges of the [forest].”
Murray cites the danger turbines could have on birds whose principal southern routes run through the Virginia-West Virginia ridgeline. He also expressed concern about the federally protected Cow Knob salamander, which can only be found in the mountain ranges along the Virginias.
Impact On Battlefields
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, along with other organizations in the Valley, has offered a contribution to Shenandoah Forum to help cover some of the costs of the event, said Howard Kittel, the foundation’s executive director
The wind turbines, Kittel said, would damage the “experience” of the three Civil War battlefields the proposed building sites border: Toms Brook, Fishers Hill and New Market.
“They aren’t taking a pro- or anti-position to the issue,” Kittel said. “We felt that was an important approach and that it was a great opportunity to quell rumors and get information out there about the proposal.”
The forum has been involved in other hot-button issues in the central Valley. It hosted a January 2005 discussion on the proposed expansion of Interstate 81.
By Anthony Bootz
17 June 2008
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