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Proposed ban would keep wind turbines off ridges in Floyd County

By early next year, Floyd County may prohibit structures taller than 40 feet, including large wind turbines, from its ridges.

A ban on structures higher than 40 feet would also include buildings taller than about four stories. And the ordinance’s ridgeline stipulation would include more than half the land in the county – areas with elevations of more than 2,000 feet.

The blanket ordinance, written by the county’s attorney and proposed this week, could go up for a vote by supervisors early next year.

If approved, it would take the county out of wind companies’ considerations as they attempt to build Virginia’s first commercial wind farm.

“It’s short, it’s simple,” Floyd County Supervisor Case Clinger said of the ordinance. “Let’s just eliminate all that and take care of everything.”

Two companies, Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy and German-owned Nordex, have discussed turbine farms on Wills Ridge, in the north-central part of the county near Virginia 8. Invenergy, the Chicago company planning a wind farm on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County, has looked at land on Indian Ridge, close to the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwest Floyd County, according to County Administrator Dan Campbell.

County supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at Floyd County High School’s auditorium.

The supervisors expect a crowd.

At the supervisors meetings over the past few months, residents have spoken their opinions about the possibility of wind farms. Many speakers have expressed opposition, Campbell said.

Wayne Boothe, who owns a 95-acre cattle farm with sweeping views of Wills Ridge, has collected more than 600 signatures petitioning against a wind farm there.

“I’m glad we’re getting this far along,” he said Wednesday.

The county’s five supervisors likely would vote on the ordinance or amend it at a meeting after the public hearing.

The ordinance may be the first major decision for Lauren Yoder and Joe Turman, who take their seats in January. Yoder will represent the Locust Grove District in place of outgoing board Chairman David Ingram, and Turman will fill Bill Gardner’s seat in the Burks Fork District.

“I’m kind of a personal property rights guy,” Yoder said Wednesday. “I’m leaning away from the ordinance right now.”

He said he fears setting too great of a restriction on land in the county and keeping out businesses in the future. Floyd County has no zoning ordinance.

Yoder added that he won’t make a decision until after the public hearing.

“Floyd really does need some new ideas and new sources of jobs,” he said.

The idea for a broad ordinance to ban tall structures grew in Floyd County this fall as wind developers visited and supervisors watched Roanoke County leaders negotiate a policy to regulate wind turbines. Roanoke County hasn’t yet handled a permit application from Invenergy for the Poor Mountain project.

Patrick and Tazewell counties also have adopted broad ordinances that prohibit large structures on ridgelines, according to Floyd’s county administrator.

“It kind of opened our eyes up that our ridges and mountains are natural resources,” said Clinger, whose Courthouse District includes Wills Ridge. “Windmills, condominiums, anything that takes away from that natural beauty is going to hurt Floyd overall.”

The draft ordinance makes some concessions to meet state code. It would exempt water, radio, TV and cellphone towers, and electric and cable grids from the ban. The ordinance also would allow steeples, chimneys and other thin structures that are mounted onto a larger building. That includes small windmills.

If the ordinance is approved, the county would provide a list of all property parcels affected and issue maps of the ridgelines.

Representatives from Horizon and Nordex could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Invenergy declined to comment.