City Council attorney: Panel can’t overturn decision rejecting Sinton High School wind turbine project
SINTON – A controversial wind turbine project never made it to a vote at the Sinton City Council on Tuesday night after the council’s attorney said state law doesn’t give them authority to overturn the decision of a city board.
The Sinton school district wants to build two turbines for math and science education and energy savings at its high school campus. The city’s Board of Adjustment rejected the plan Feb. 21.
Attorney James McKibben said the district’s only recourse under state law would have been to file a lawsuit appealing the board’s decision within 10 days.
Council members who support the turbine project could try to allow it to move forward by passing a new ordinance or amending the city’s wind turbine ordinance at a future meeting, McKibben said.
Some oppose the project because of aesthetics, noise, and fears that the turbines would hurt surrounding property values. Others are opposed to spending public funds on wind energy. The district wouldn’t be able to afford the project without a $974,000 federal grant.
The district could be running out of time. The grant stipulates construction must be complete by April 30, although the district has applied for an extension to September. Superintendent Steve VanMatre said he is optimistic the Department of Energy will grant the extension.
If it doesn’t, it could kill the project, because the turbines would take about six weeks to build in good weather, VanMatre said, and the district must complete other steps such as vetting a construction contract.
On Monday, school trustees tabled a motion to sue the city, waiting to see what the council would do. They meet again Friday and could approve a similar motion.
Three council members – a majority – have indicated support for the project. Mayor Pete Gonzales opposes it, saying the district failed to communicate with the city early enough. The district has considered the turbine project since 2009 but didn’t approach city officials until January.
Gonzales said an example of the broken lines of communication is in a document from the state agency that facilitates the Department of Energy grant. The document says the department requested the city participate in an environmental feasibility study of the turbine project.
City officials never received such a request, Gonzales said.
“If they would have come to us and talked to us about the project, we may have gone along with it,” he said.
The city passed a wind turbine ordinance in October limiting the height of turbines to 40 feet, but school district attorneys say the ordinance applies only to smaller residential turbines.
Council members discussed the wind turbine project with their attorney for about 20 minutes in closed session. McKibben said they talked about anticipated litigation from the school district.
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.
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