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Newport tightens turbine ordinance

Newer, tighter restrictions have been put in place for wind energy facilities proposed for in town or its zoning jurisdiction.

The council unanimously approved Monday at a special joint meeting of the council and planning board a set of amendments to the town’s tall structures ordinance.

These amendments added new measures intended to address concerns brought up by residents about the potential impacts of a wind energy facility.

About 12 people came to the meeting, including Dr. John Droz, a retired physicist from Morehead City. Dr. Droz has been an active opponent of wind energy, particularly a facility previously proposed by Torch Renewable Energy LLC of Houston just outside the Newport corporate limits.

It was this proposal, which has since been dropped, that spurred the council and planning board to create the ordinance amendments passed Monday. Dr. Droz said he thinks that, by and large, the council did well with their action.

“I’m pleased that, in general, they accepted all the issues we said were needed,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Ken Davis moved to adopt the amendments, seconded by Councilman Chuck Shinn. The changes made by the amendments include:

The council held a public hearing at its Feb. 13 council meeting on the proposed amendments. It decided to wait until the Monday meeting before taking action to discuss several issues councilmen had with the planning board’s previous recommendation.

One of the biggest concerns was about the planning board’s recommendation to remove an existing property value guarantee requirement. Councilman David Heath, who also sits on the Carteret County Planning Commission, said he wasn’t sure if the council had the authority to impose a guarantee; the county planning commission isn’t sure about the county’s authority in that regard, either, and is currently having county staff look into it.

Councilman Mark Eadie said that because Newport residents have been worried about the impacts turbines may have to their property, he’s not concerned with the threat of a lawsuit.

“I owe it to the residents of Newport to provide some protection,” he said. Mr. Heath said he has no problems with the concept of a guarantee and he supports protecting residents’ property. However, he reiterated his concerns about how it would be structured and the legality.

“I have no problem with leaving the guarantee (in the ordinance),” Mr. Heath said. “But I recommend we revisit it at a later time.”

After the discussion, the planning board unanimously removed their recommendation to take property value guarantees out of the ordinance from their recommended amendments. Mickey Simmons moved to remove the recommendation, seconded by Sam Hammond.

The lowering of the height limit was also discussed, having been tabled at the Jan. 20 planning board meeting. At the Monday meeting, the board unanimously recommended lowering the height limit; Chuck Hudson moved to add lowering the height limit to their recommendations to the council, seconded by Mr. Simmons.

Board Chairman John Davis said the 275-foot height, which is also the height recommended by the county planning commission, was proposed based on tree height around Newport.

“That would still let them (wind energy developers) have 75-foot blades with a 200-foot tower,” he said. “That will give them clearance above the trees.”

John Davis said lowering the height would minimize the visual impact of wind turbines while also improving air safety for the nearby Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Mr. Heath said that it’s his understanding that 275 will still allow for a 1,000 kilowatt turbine, which is considered industrial.

There was also considerable discussion about the amount to require for surety bonds. The planning board had originally recommended a $200,000 bond per turbine, but both Mr. Davis and Mr. Shinn weren’t convinced it was enough.

Bob Chambers, town planner, said the $200,000 estimate came from research he did with other towns that had been forced to take down wind turbines. Mr. Eadie also said that if the bond was too high, it would become cheaper for the builders to maintain them just enough that they wouldn’t be required to take them down.

“I’m satisfied with the research the planning board has done,” Mr. Eadie said. “If we find out it (the surety bond amount) is inadequate, we can change it later.”

The council also directed Angela Christian, town manager, to look into potential changes that may be required to the property guarantee. Mr. Heath moved to direct the manager, seconded by Councilman Jim McCoy. The motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Shinn opposed, saying he thinks the burden of further review and research should be with the planning board.

Before the council approved the planning board’s recommendation, the board removed a proposed new section on solar farms from it for later discussion. While the board had received the proposal, it had been focusing its attention on the wind energy facility section of the recommendation, and hadn’t examined the solar farm portion.