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Cleburne commission lets die proposal to halt wind farms

HEFLIN – The Cleburne County Commission on Monday declined to vote on a proposal that would have forced its members to decide whether to close a road for a proposed wind turbine project on Turkey Heaven Mountain.

Nations Energy Solutions, which is still exploring the potential of the mountain as a location for wind turbines, has not made a commitment to build there or asked the commission to close the road.

Commissioner Benji Langley created the proposal, which among other things would have directed Chairman Ryan Robertson to write a letter to the governor and local legislators to ask for a three-year moratorium on wind energy projects in the state. It additionally asked the commissioners to state that they would not now or in the future close or re-route County Road 852, the main road up Turkey Heaven Mountain, to allow construction of wind turbines.

Langley asked for the vote on the measure at Monday’s commission meeting, but none of the other commissioners seconded his motion.

Langley said after the meeting he might try to put the issue on the agenda again.

“I’d like to have a vote one way or another,” Langley said.

Commissioner Bobby Brooks, whose district includes the proposed wind farm site, said he didn’t like the resolution because of its declaration that the commission has no intention “to close or re-route CR 852 now or in the foreseeable future.”

“I don’t want our hands tied,” Brooks said. “Something could come up in the future.”

Commissioner Emmett Owen agreed.

“It seems like it was sort of taking any negotiations that we would have with the wind turbine people right off the table,” Owen said.

Commissioner Laura Cobb said she didn’t like the resolution in part because it referenced the commission’s stance on proposed state wind farm regulations that failed to become law this spring.

“It’s a dead issue,” Cobb said.

The only thing the commissioners should be discussing is the road, Cobb said, because that’s the only thing they have any authority to decide.

Since news came out in March that a wind turbine project was proposed for the county, commission meetings have been packed with people interested in the project, some for, some against and some who had yet to decide. They have spoken at every meeting, including asking dozens of questions at the end.

Monday’s meeting drew about 50 people including some newcomers who spoke about the mountain’s potential of having Native American burial grounds.

Rita Huckeba, a member of a Cherokee group in Haralson and Polk counties in Georgia, said she lived at the bottom of the mountain and was not in favor of the project for a number of reasons including the potential closing of the road.

She brought along Sharon Jackson, an elder in the Central Alabama Native American Council and a Creek, who spoke to the commission about burial mounds she believes exist on the mountain.

A state law passed in 2010 protecting Native American burial grounds makes it a felony to knowingly dig into a burial ground or any kind of gravesite, Jackson told the commissioners. Jackson said an archeological survey should be done on the property before any construction.

Robin Saiz, developer for Nations Energy Solutions, said an archeological survey is part of the normal process in choosing a location for turbines.

“Every wind farm that I know of and can attest to, goes through an archeological study,” Saiz said.

If archeological artifacts are found, the company would work around them when building, he said.

In meetings since the project plans came to light, the commissioners have allowed residents to speak at the end of the meeting. On Monday, they adjourned without inviting public comments.

In other business the commission:

 Declared a 2009 Ford Crown Victoria and a 1999 Chevy Tahoe surplus property that can be disposed of or sold.
 Supported placing a FedEx drop box at the Cleburne County Courthouse.
Approved renaming a portion of County Road 205 north of its intersection with County Road 296 making it a continuation of County Road 296.
Approved allocating $5,967 to Fruithurst Elementary School for the purchase of a new security system for the entrance including new doors, intercoms and cameras.
Approved paying a stipend of $20 per day to inmates working on the maintenance and upkeep of county buildings for meals while they work.
Declared May 2014 Older Americans Month in Cleburne County.
Heard that a luncheon to thank everyone involved in the construction at the new Rosewood Community Center at 25734 County Road 49 will be held at noon Tuesday at the center.