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6-year-old to present petition against turbines

Like most 6-year-olds, Lillian Coker likes watching Barbie movies and hiking.

But another favorite pastime is a little more grown-up – collecting names on a petition to stop a proposed wind farm development by Pioneer Green Energy in Cherokee and Etowah counties.

She will present the petition, which contains more than 1,000 names, to the House Commerce Committee today in Montgomery.

The committee is debating wind farm legislation sponsored by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, that would regulate the farms and prevent them from later being abandoned.

Lillian is in kindergarten at Eura Brown Elementary School. She said in an interview that she got the idea for her petition from a classmate who circulated one to get more books for the school library.

She said a petition is “for stopping stuff or making things happen.”

Her mother, Cara Coker, said she talked with her daughter at dinner one night

about the proposed project, and said she was “pretty passionate” about stopping the turbines.

She said Lillian pounded her fist on the table and said, “They cannot put windmills on my mountain, I’ll stop them.”

The youngster said, “I decided to start my own (petition) to stop people (from) putting the windmills on top of the mountain.”

Lillian said she likes to hike to the top of the mountain because it “makes me feel closer to my daddy,” who died in 2012.

“It’s close to the sky, and the sky’s so close to the earth, and it … reminds me about my daddy,” she said.

Lillian said the turbines will be dangerous, and she and her mother won’t be able to go hiking around Cherokee Rock Village.

She said she wants to have clean energy, but “I just like hiking there and I really don’t want that to happen.”

Lillian got the first seven names on her petition the old-fashioned way – by asking other students.

At dinner at a restaurant in Rome, Ga., Lillian went table-to-table seeking signatures, and she said everybody agreed to sign, bringing her total to 36 names.

The next stop was the Internet.

“I thought that was clever and cute,” Mrs. Coker said.

She took a picture of the petition and posted it, along with an explanation, on Facebook. It began circulating and was picked up by groups opposed to the turbines, and the Cokers got an invitation to hand deliver the petition to the House Commerce Committee, which is considering the legislation. The hearing will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Mrs. Coker said she really didn’t know legislation on wind farms was being considered. When she asked her daughter if she wanted to go to Montgomery, Lillian said she needed a lot more “signs” – signatures – or the petition wouldn’t work.

Mrs. Coker did some research and found that at change.org, for every signature on a petition, an email would be sent to Gov. Robert Bentley, House Speaker Mike Hubbard and other members of the Legislature.

So she started Lillian’s petition there, with a picture of her daughter at Cherokee Rock Village, explaining what she was doing.

“I put a link to it on my Facebook, and it just went from there,” Mrs. Coker said.

The online petition as of Tuesday afternoon had more than 1,100 signatures.

Pioneer Green, responding to a lawsuit filed to stop the proposed wind farms along Shinbone Ridge, said the project will not harm residents and their property. It cited studies that debunk “wind turbine syndrome” and another that said property values are not affected by nearby wind projects, either positively or negatively. The response said scientific opinion states climate change is the biggest threat to wildlife on the planet and wind turbines are one way to help slow down or reverse it.

Mrs. Coker said she has her own views on the turbines, but isn’t “pushing her daughter” to do this.

“This is her thing, and I’m going to support her in any way I can, but I’m not going to throw my views out there because I don’t want to jeopardize what she’s trying to do,” she said.

Williams, who has signed the petition, met Lillian Monday afternoon.

“It’s a great civics lesson,” Williams said, noting that the petition can have an impact on legislators.

“I’m excited, and I’m extremely impressed,” Williams said. “I think I’ve got adults in the community that have expressed interest and done less than Lillian has.”