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Windmill discussion fuels heated county debate

The topic of windmills created unintended alternative energy April 9 as Carroll County Supervisors heated the room with debate over a company looking into placing structures on Stoots Mountain.

While two Carroll County supervisors wanted to talk about the county’s stance on windmills, other board members didn’t want to discuss the topic at all since the item stemmed from an executive session meeting closed to the public.

During the Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ April 9 meeting, Pine Creek District Supervisor Bob Martin noted that an organization from Texas has proposed to place windmills on Stoots Mountain in Carroll County. While Martin didn’t mention the company by name, landowners with property in the area have told multiple media sources they have been contacted by representatives of EDP Renewables/Horizon Wind Energy for a potential wind energy project.

“It came up in executive session to start with, but it is in the public domain at this point. The company has approached several individuals and had a community meeting since then, so I think it has went beyond executive session,” Martin told fellow supervisors.

Martin said since Carroll County doesn’t have any type of mountaintop or windmill ordinance, it’s a lot easier to consider an ordinance before a windmill goes up than after the fact. But Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Sam Dickson said he didn’t think supervisors should be discussing the topic at all.

“As far as I’m concerned it is a closed session issue, so I am not going to talk about it because if I talked I would be in conflict of policy. There are repercussions if you do go outside of that. Did any of you guys want to talk about a specific company or specific location?”

Martin said he didn’t think the executive session statute was designed to cover something that really didn’t pertain to the business of the county. He said it was a company from Texas addressing private owners about buying windmill sites. He didn’t think it was appropriate at the time, and he said if so you could make that case for almost anything that’s covered in executive session.

“Mr. Martin, you were in that meeting when we came out of it and where we talked about doing it, and as far as I’m concerned there is no use to talk about it. If you want to talk about windmills in general and our ordinance for that, we can talk about it,” Dickson said. “But as far as a specific company, is there anything else you want to talk about?”

Laurel Fork District Supervisor Josh Hendrick said he’d like to talk about policy and regulations in general more than a specific company. Dickson said that could be talked about. Hendrick wanted to know about Floyd County’s statute.

“There is a statute which allows a locality to regulate mountain ridge construction and put conditions and to regulate height of tall buildings or structures. Floyd County had a draft ordinance which it considered for public hearing,” said County Attorney Jim Cornwell. “After that public hearing, the board of supervisors decided it needed more information, so it appointed a committee with two members from each district to review it and then get back to the board of supervisors.”

Hendrick said he felt like Carroll needed something to regulate a project if a windmill company does try to locate here.

“That is what I would like to discuss, what as a county we could to do to regulate as far as environmental impact studies and structure heights, structure appearances, things of that nature? Right now we have nothing to prevent something from starting,” Hendrick said.

Dickson said he agreed it was something the county should research. He asked the board if it would like for Cornwell to bring a draft ordinance that other localities have, or if it wanted to start one from scratch.

Sulphur Springs District Supervisor David Hutchins said he thought the county ought to look at what Cornwell developed in Floyd County so it wouldn’t have to pay the county attorney twice. Then the Carroll County Planning Commission could look at the draft, he said.

“I drafted two ordinances for Floyd and they are public record in Floyd. One was to regulate windmills, one was to prohibit them,” Cornwell said. “And I can send you all of them to look at and figure out what you want to do.”

Hendrick said that would be a good starting point to see what’s out there and what the county needs to do. Dickson then asked county staff to put the item on the agenda for the May meeting.

Martin said his concern was that if Carroll allows one group of windmills to be established in the county, it will set a precedent and could change the whole county.

“I just want the people to know what could be coming,” Martin said.

Dickson said he agreed with that, but he is hesitant to name certain companies and products that were part of an executive session meeting.

“As a matter of fact, we all know where Gatorade is now. And the reason they are in Wytheville, they were looking at North Carolina and decided North Carolina was where they were going to build,” Dickson said. “It leaked out Gatorade was coming to that area, and when Gatorade found out they decided to go somewhere else and they ended up going to Wytheville. We don’t want to set a precedent of things coming out of closed session.”

Those comments didn’t sit well with Martin.

“I agree with you, however, I can also remember this 150 jobs that was advertised coming out of executive session the week before the election, so what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander,” Martin said. “The other thing is this windmill situation came up {in local media}. The same company had public hearings in Carroll and had already met with landowners after this executive session. Frankly I’m just not sure it will hold legal muster if this came to an Attorney General ruling on that executive session item that was discussed in there.”

Dickson said he still thought supervisors needed to keep closed session items out of the public realm, and that’s what he intended to do.

“I am certainly glad the board has gotten religion on that,” Martin said.

At that point, Dickson closed the discussion and moved to the next item on the agenda.