“Sham” n. – an imitation or counterfeit purporting to be genuine.
In 1995, Roanoke County assembled 200 citizen volunteers to project where the county would be in 2010. This was to be part of a strategic planning process called “visioning” that would reflect community consensus and the community’s values.
Ten focus groups prepared recommendations on agriculture and forestry, economic development, public education, technology, resource preservation, transportation, growth management and planning, government relations, recreation and culture and housing. These were to influence the county’s comprehensive plan.
In the years that followed, it became apparent that citizen involvement in the planning process was little more than a façade for business as usual. Two obvious examples have been Slate Hill vs. the recommendation for mountaintop protection, and the closing of small community schools like Bent Mountain Elementary vs. the recommendation to preserve community identity.
Fifteen years later, our mountaintops and natural resources are still in peril due to a proposed industrial wind farm on Poor Mountain. Yes, there are communication towers there now, but these are only a fraction of the height and mass of 18 443-foot wind turbines.
The road construction and clearing involved would effectively level the top of a mountain that could have been better named “Emerald Isle” for its position amid less forested terrain or “Mount Aerie” for the thousands of raptors that traverse this peak. Pristine waters (according to Save Our Streams monitoring), fragile soils and diverse biological communities would all be affected by the construction and operation of this wind farm. And this doesn’t even consider the visioning recommendation to protect viewsheds along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Given a more appropriate name for this gem in the crown of mountains that sets off our beautiful valley, perhaps the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors would seek to establish a preserve or an ecotourist park on Poor Mountain with trails and bird-watching platforms.
With a greater sense of responsibility, perhaps they would have already enacted ordinances and programs to preserve the integrity of the surrounding mountains and open space as recommended in 1995 by their citizen panel on resource preservation. Enacting such ordinances made sense to the economic development and tourism panel, as well, which projected, “In 2010, Roanoke County (would have) taken the lead to preserve our most valuable asset, the scenic environment and natural ridge lines of the mountains surrounding the Roanoke Valley.” These 443-foot structures weren’t part of that picture.
It’s now 2010. Did Roanoke County truly embrace citizen participation and community consensus? Vision 2010 – sham or no sham? You be the judge. Check out all the “Vision Statements” at tinyurl.com/2b6yv7x.
From our point of view as former Vision 2010 committee members, it is clear that “visioning” recommendations have been ignored. When the county supervisors convene to decide the fate of Poor Mountain, they have an opportunity to rectify this by heeding the will of the county’s citizens as expressed in Vision 2010.
They must recognize that the issue here need not be pro-wind vs. anti-wind. It is first and foremost a siting issue, and Poor Mountain is the wrong place for a wind farm. Arguably, this is true for many reasons, but one reason that cannot be disputed is that an industrial wind farm would go against the vision of the citizens of Roanoke County to protect our ridgelines and natural resources.
Robert K. and Roberta C. Johnson
The Johnsons have been residents of Bent Mountain for 31 years and are members of the 1995 Roanoke County Vision 2010 Committee.
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