March 27, 2012

Sinton council to reconsider wind turbine project

By Mark Collette, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 27 March 2012

CORPUS CHRISTI – A controversial wind turbine project at Sinton High School could move forward if the City Council approves it tonight.

Two city boards initially rejected the plan Feb. 21 when they voted to deny the school district’s request for variances to the city’s wind turbine ordinance. The council will consider overturning those decisions.

Councilwoman Linda Guzman-Alaniz said she changed her mind about the project after a trip to see one of the turbines in person. School officials invited city officials to view a turbine in Seadrift on March 1 in hopes of allaying concerns that installing the same model at Sinton High School would hurt property values and be too noisy for neighbors.

She said the trip convinced her “that it’s something attractive, it’s nice, it’s nothing big and there’s hardly any noise.”

The council meeting comes a day after Sinton Independent School District trustees tabled a motion that would have authorized their attorney to sue the city in an effort to move the project forward. The district is using a $974,000 federal grant and must begin construction by April 30 or risk losing the funding.

In a letter to city officials, school district attorney Roger Hepworth outlined the district’s legal position, saying Texas courts have ruled that cities can’t use zoning laws to prevent schools from constructing facilities. City Manager Jackie Knox, however, has emphasized a Texas Attorney General ruling that says cities can apply zoning rules to school districts in matters that affect aesthetics or surrounding property values.

Those are two concerns of neighboring residents who have spoken out at public meetings, including a developer who has plans for a residential subdivision near the high school. Others have objected to the project on the grounds that they don’t want government money subsidizing wind energy and don’t want taxpayer money used for the project.

The district wants to build two turbines that are about 155 feet tall when the blades reach their highest position. The turbines are larger than residential windmills but smaller than industrial-grade turbines found at large wind farms.

They would be purchased with the federal grant and $243,000 in district funds.

District officials say students at all grade levels will be able to use data generated by the turbines to learn lessons in math and science.

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