SINTON – The Sinton Independent School District will move forward with plans to build two wind turbines at the high school campus despite the city’s rejection of zoning variances for the project last week.
School trustees met with their attorney in closed session for more than an hour Monday night before unanimously voting to allow Superintendent Steve VanMatre to negotiate a contract for construction of the turbines.
Trustees said the city’s ordinance prohibiting large wind turbines within city limits does not apply to the school district, and they criticized the Sinton Planning and Zoning Commission for reaching a decision on the wind turbines during a closed meeting last week that violated state open meeting laws.
“I had a problem with the committee going into closed session and then voting in closed session,” Trustee Jimmie Alaniz said. “I would have liked to see what they voted for and voted against.”
Had the district understood city officials’ objections better, it might have been able to work with them to make the project more palatable, Alaniz said.
Trustee Sonia Lopez read the motion in favor of the wind project from a piece of paper before the 7-0 vote.
The attorney, Roger Hepworth, said the city’s wind turbine ordinance doesn’t apply to the school district because it regulates turbines of 10 kilowatts or weaker, typically found on homes. The school’s project calls for 100-kilowatt turbines.
Hepworth said the city doesn’t have authority in this situation because courts have held that cities can enforce zoning rules for school districts only when there is an issue of health or safety. He said the school district tried to work within the city’s zoning process as a show of good faith.
“The school tried to take the high road all the way through,” he said.
No city officials spoke at the meeting Monday. Some residents at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting spoke against the district’s plans because of worries about noise and costs associated with the project, and on the grounds that making an exception for the school district wasn’t fair to other property owners.
The district plans to build two 155-foot turbines using $974,000 in federal grant money and $243,000 in district funds. The project is expected to save more than $33,000 a year in energy costs. The district will have to pay for transformers and for maintenance after afive-year warranty expires.
Teachers plan to use the turbines for lessons in math, engineering, physics and renewable energy.
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