December 22, 2010
Opinions, Virginia

Tazewell board can’t escape the never-ending wind turbine story

By CHARLES OWENS, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 22 December 2010

While it is probably a Christmas gift they were not hoping to receive, the wind turbine saga on East River Mountain is back for debate among the five-elected members of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.

The board probably thought this story was finished when they passed the so-called ridgeline protection ordinance on a 3-2 vote last February. But Dominion Resources is still in town, and they say they are committed to developing the newly dubbed Bluestone River Wind Farm. They are classifying it as a long-term project without an actual construction timeline.

The whole wind turbine saga, which of course dates back to 2008, has polarized folks in our region. It seems you are either for the wind turbines, or against the wind turbines, with little room for middle ground in between.

Dominion had been relatively quiet about the status of the East River Mountain project up until last week. Many in the region probably assumed it was inactive, or a project that had been abandoned. It will be interesting to see in the days and weeks ahead if opinions regarding the project will change, as the company is clearly looking to move forward with this large-scale development if the county’s ridgeline ordinance is amended, or if perhaps state or federal legislation is adopted that could assist with the development of the project.

We learned last week that BP, or British Petroleum, is out. Dominion Resources is acquiring full ownership of the 2,600 acre tract of land on East River Mountain for the purpose of developing the proposed Bluestone River Wind Farm.

A deed transferring the full ownership of the property to Dominion was recorded last week at the Tazewell County Courthouse. Dominion says it remains committed to developing the $200 million project – although there is no time table for construction. Company officials also admit the wind farm can’t be built at this time without the support of the citizens of Tazewell County, and specifically the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.

Back in February, board chairman Seth White, who serves the Northwestern District, and Western District Supervisor John Absher, voted in support of the wind turbine farm and against the proposed ridgeline protection ordinance. White and Absher argued that the $200 million project would provide an urgently needed economic shot-in-the-arm to Tazewell County.

Eastern District Supervisor David Anderson, along with Northern District Supervisor Jim Campbell Jr., voted against the project, citing opposition from citizens in their districts and concerns regarding a possible loss in property values, harm to the environment and a loss of the scenic vista of East River Mountain – which is without question one of the region’s most recognized landmarks.

Southern District Supervisor Mike Hymes was the so-called swing vote, and he kept his cards close to his vest. He ultimately voted in support of the ridgeline ordinance – seemingly sealing the fate of the wind farm. However, the project didn’t go away.

Dominion now wants the county to revisit the ridgeline ordinance. It will be interesting to see how the board responds. Ignoring the project probably won’t work, as Dominion appears to be committed to moving forward with the development. And the citizens of Tazewell County – regardless of whether they are in favor of or opposed to the wind farm – will most likely be interested in seeing what their elected leaders think, and whether their opinions have or haven’t changed.

So far only Anderson has been vocal, as he should. The wind farm after all is located in his backyard, and in his district. He issued a lengthy statement to the Daily Telegraph last week reinforcing what he calls the existing law of the land in Tazewell County, or the ridgeline ordinance, that according to Anderson prohibits Dominion from moving forward with the project.

I’m sure the board members are hoping to avoid another prolonged debate over this project. But another debate could be coming. Folks will looking to the Tazewell board for information and updates in light of the recent comments by Dominion. They will want to know if the ridgeline ordinance still stands, if the board will revisit or amend the ridgeline ordinance as requested by Dominion, and if opinions on the board have changed regarding the project.

Like it or not, the ball is back in the court of the Board of Supervisors. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s city editor.

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