Dozens of people crowded into a Cleburne County Commission work session Monday, some to ask questions about a proposed wind energy project on Turkey Heaven Mountain and some to chastise the commissioners for not publicizing the project more.
Jamie Forsyth told the commissioners he found out about the proposed project about two weeks ago.
“I don’t know why I didn’t know about it,” Forsyth said. “Maybe I just didn’t pay attention to what was going on.”
But he begged the commissioners not to allow the project into Cleburne County without more research.
“We have no idea what the consequences could be,” Forsyth said.
Several people talked about wind turbine syndrome – an illness that some say is related to noise so low it’s not audible to the human ear, but still affects the ear physically.
“Can you guarantee that people are not going to be made sick, that farmers are not going to be hurt?” Carolyn Doggett, one of the speakers against the wind turbine project noted, asked the commissioners.
Robin Saiz, the developer for Nations Energy Systems, the company considering a wind farm in the county, has worked in the wind energy business for years, he said. Wind turbine syndrome is unsubstantiated, Saiz said. He advised people to not rely on Internet search engines for their research about wind turbines.
“Go see a wind farm. Talk to people in the community. Talk to people that live and work around them who have cattle or livestock,” Saiz said. “Go by what they say, because that’s real and that’s factual.”
Saiz said neither he nor the companies that he has worked for have been sued for wind turbine syndrome, and he doesn’t know of any company that’s been successfully sued for the syndrome.
A number of people at the meeting seemed most concerned that the county had no regulations for wind farms.
Rodney McMichen, a member of the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce, asked if the commissioners could create some type of regulations.
But the commissioners don’t have control over the project, they said. All Alabama counties must get approval from the state Legislature to enact any zoning rules.
“We don’t have the power to say yes or no,” said Ryan Robertson, chairman of the commission.
But other residents brought up state legislation that would have regulated wind farms. Robertson and the commissioners requested the county be exempted from that legislation. The regulations didn’t pass the state Legislature, but the people in the audience still questioned that decision and how it was made.
“Ryan I thought you’d be a little better to us as citizens than to let a guy from West Palm Beach, Fla., trump everything, without giving us a chance to rebut it,” resident Doug Gibbs said to Robertson, referring to Saiz, who lives in Florida.
Former Commissioner Tracy Lambert asked the commissioners to create a committee to study and educate the public on the proposal. Not everyone is going to be happy, Lambert said, but they will be informed.
“And I think that’s what most of the people here want,” Lambert said.
Tanya Maloney, executive director of the chamber, said she was one of those who wrote a letter in support of exempting the county from that legislation.
“It’s our job to look for economic development opportunities in Cleburne County,” Maloney said. “We’re not saying we’re for it or we’re against it, but the way the bill was written, we felt like it eliminated that as an opportunity altogether.”
Heath Mitchell, who watched the whole exchange, said he was unsure how to take the information presented at the meeting.
Mitchell is all for green energy, he said.
“Going wind and solar is the future,” Mitchell said.
He came to the meeting to get more information about the project, but the debate really didn’t clear up his questions, he said. He’s no closer to a decision on the project than before the work session, Mitchell said.
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