A group of Lewes residents is readying a lawsuit that would target the University of Delaware, City of Lewes and other agencies that approved placement of a wind turbine on land adjacent to the university’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment Hugh R. Sharp Campus.
Site preparation for the 2-megawatt wind turbine began last March and the unit began operation in August.
The turbine is designed to produce enough electricity to power the college campus.
But a group of about seven homeowners, who live about 2,100 feet from the base of the wind turbine, says the device produces noise similar to that of a jet airplane.
Jerry Lechliter, a group spokesman, said the noise makes it difficult to fall asleep and get back to sleep if one is awakened.
He said substantial data indicates light flicker produced by the spinning blades can trigger epileptic seizures and lead to other health-related problems.
Lechliter said the lawsuit would be filed by several citizens in a court yet to be determined. Several defendants would seek dismissal of the suit, but Lechliter said that would be unlikely.
He said all parties would seek to know what information the others have, a process known as discovery.
“It isn’t them discovering us, it’s us discovering them,” Lechliter said. He said defending agencies would find that withholding documents and refusing to completely comply with discovery rules wouldn’t work.
“A bunch of people will be subject to deposition, perhaps even the governor, because there was tremendous political pressure to push this thing through,” Lechliter said.
He said the court would decide whether citizens have a legitimate case. Lechliter said the citizens group is obtaining $5,000 from a unnamed foundation that would be used to pay initial legal fees.
The group plans to use the money to hire a Pittsburgh-area lawyer with expertise in handling cases involving wind turbines. Lechliter said the attorney has successfully sued Gamesa, manufacturer of the wind turbine installed on the university’s campus, and a utility company. The result was a confidential settlement.
Lechliter said Delaware law prohibits structures such as the wind turbine on land designated as open space.
He said in 2002 the university sold about 260 acres designated as open space, including the wind turbine site, to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).
Nathan Hayward, a member of the Delaware Open Space Council, said state law requires the council to give its opinion and recommendation when DNREC purchases open space land. The council advises DNREC’s secretary and is overseen by the department. The land purchased included a dredge spoil parcel used by the university adjacent to the wind turbine.
“In this particular deal, the General Assembly acted without the council’s recommendation,” Hayward said, referring only to purchase of the dredge spoil site. He said if the turbine is on a parcel adjacent to open space, the council would presumably have standing and would not necessarily approve of the location because it devalues open space.
Lechliter said he and other Lewes citizens are unhappy about how officials handled the wind turbine project.
“I’m very disappointed in how the city’s managed this. Politicians forget they work for us. The citizens have questions. They should answer them forthright and not hide behind attorney-client privilege,” he said.
He said he has attempted to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain wind turbine-related documents from the university, but to no avail.
“It’s a state agency, and it gets over $100 million taxpayer dollars a year. To say that they don’t have to provide us any documents because we can’t show the issue is directly related to taxpayer funds is wrong,” he said.
Lewes Mayor Jim Ford said he’d communicated with Lechliter about the wind turbine and acknowledged they have differing opinions on the process and what was involved.
Ford said the citizens group has the right to mount a legal challenge, but he stands behind the city’s approval of the turbine.
Nancy Targett, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, was instrumental in the university obtaining the wind turbine. She said everything the university did to get land-use approval for its placement and permission to erect it took place with full public disclosure.
“We followed the rules, and we followed the process. We put a lot of information on the website, and we’ve been as transparent as we could be,” Targett said.
Targett said she doesn’t know anything about a pending lawsuit and couldn’t comment until she did.