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Local environmental group prevails in Tomales met tower lawsuit

NextEra Withdraws Wind Project in Rural West Marin.

Marin County, CA – On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, the Marin County Board of Supervisors set aside permits it granted a year ago for two 197-foot tall meteorological (“met”) research towers in rural West Marin, proposed by NextEra Energy Resources, Inc., a multibillion-dollar energy corporation based in Juno Beach, Florida. NextEra is the largest wind energy developer in the U.S. and Canada.

The Board of Supervisors also set aside the project’s categorical exemption from environmental review. The primary function of the met towers proposed adjacent to Estero de San Antonio and Stemple Creek near the town of Tomales was to gather wind speed data for up to three years to determine whether the area might be an appropriate locale for a utility-scale wind energy facility. The towers also document the presence of birds and bats.

At the instigation of Tomales resident Louise Gregg, joined by West Marin rancher Susie Schlesinger and others, West Marin/Sonoma Coastal Advocates (WMSCA) sued the County in January 2011. WMSCA is an unincorporated association of conservation leaders, ranchers, activists, and concerned residents whose goal is to protect and preserve coastal resources in Marin and Sonoma counties.

The group alleged that the proposed Tomales met towers had potentially significant impacts on the public viewshed, inconsistencies with adopted County land use plans, zoning, and policies adopted for environmental protection, impacts on badger habitat, and lethal impacts to birds and bats, including Osprey, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, White-Tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Golden Eagle, Merlin, and American Kestrel.

Research has shown that guy wires on met towers constitute extreme hazards to migrating and foraging birds and bats, including many listed species and Species of Special Concern. Met towers also have the potential to impact ridgelines, viewsheds, scenic resources, historic community values, paleontological features, and aviation.

The Coastal Permits for the met towers were approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors without requiring the preparation of an initial study as required under the California Environmental Quality Act. The Marin County Planning Commission had denied the permits but the Board reversed the Commission’s decision. This formed the basis of WMSCA’s lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court.

The lawsuit requested that the County set aside the NextEra project and conduct environmental review before any further consideration of approval, in light of serious environmental concerns. WMSCA also filed an appeal to the California Coastal Commission along with Marin Audubon and Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. Two Coastal Commissioners filed appeals individually.

The Board’s set-aside of the project and categorical exemption, agreed to by NextEra, accomplished the precise goals of the environmental lawsuit. “We are very pleased with this outcome,” said Louise Gregg. “During the community meetings for the Local Coastal Program Update, residents were very concerned that an industrial-scale wind project could be located near the historic town of Tomales.”

“The case settled because its merit was clear. Rather than going to court, the County and NextEra capitulated,” said WMSCA member Susie Schlesinger. “This is clearly a victory for our community and the environment. We hope that no further met towers will be proposed for industrial-scale wind energy projects in the Coastal Zone and elsewhere in Marin County.”

There is growing international recognition over the negative environmental impacts of industrial-scale wind turbines. These impacts include viewshed destruction, wildlife habitat fragmentation, bird and bat mortality, decreased property values, health concerns (“Wind Turbine Syndrome”), shadow flicker, low frequency (seismic) noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, stray voltage, and radar interference.

WMSCA supports energy conservation, energy efficiency, and small-scale renewable energy applications, including wind turbines (up to 40-feet in height) in the Coastal Zone.


Susan Brandt-Hawley, Brandt-Hawley Law Group, susanbh/preservationlawyers.com, (707) 938-3900

Helen Kozoriz, West Marin/Sonoma Coastal Advocates, helenkozoriz/sbcglobal.net, (510) 336-0499