Cleburne County Road 852 is a bumpy gravel road that winds past a few scattered homes, a cell tower, towers that are used by airports and lots of trees as it climbs to the top of Turkey Heaven Mountain.
Thick stands of trees obscure most of the view leading up the mountain, and homes built along the road to take advantage of cleared areas block the rest. But off the road are some hidden ridges that open up to a view which even on a misty day stretches to Anniston and beyond.
Now, a proposed wind turbine project atop Turkey Heaven Mountain may alter those views, adding spinning blades atop large towers that turn wind into electricity. Some neighbors of the site being considered for the project are opposed to it, saying they worry it will harm their ability to use their own property or their enjoyment of the view. Others welcome the prospect of an environmentally friendly power source or the prospect of economic development. The proposal has drawn heated opposition from some residents at public meetings, and left at least one family split on the issue.
The project is proposed for areas along County Road 852 at its highest elevations beginning about 1,500 feet from Fred Kitchens’ home to where the road intersects with County Road 867. Robin Saiz, a developer with Nations Energy Solutions, said the company is considering a project of up to 30 wind turbines on the mountain. Wind tests have been going on for nearly 3 years, Saiz said.
Each wind turbine would require 1 to 2 acres of clearance during construction, Saiz said. But once the wind turbines are built, stands of timber farmed by some residents would require a setback of a little more than 20 yards, Saiz said.
Since March, when a resident brought questions about the project to a Cleburne County Commission meeting, there have been passionate voices opposing the project – many voicing resistance to closing County Road 852 to the public. Nations Energy Solutions hasn’t requested the County Commission close the road, but Ryan Robertson said the company did approach him about potentially closing the road.
“I’m not sure its a deal killer, though,” Robertson said.
The people who live and own the property off County Road 852 have mixed views on the project including the potential closing of the road.
Tracy Lambert who lives just a little down the road from Kitchens in the middle of the proposed project area is considering starting a wedding venue on his property. If the road was closed, that would make the venture impossible for him, Lambert said.
“I don’t believe the County Commission should close a county road for a private enterprise,” Lambert said.
He also wants answers about the project, Lambert said. What would be the benefits to the community? What would be the impacts on the mountain? The community should be demanding answers, he said.
Across and down the road a bit, Rochelle Osbourn is in favor of the project. Since 1997 when she moved onto her property, she has been off the electric grid. At first it was a financial decision. She and her now deceased husband approached Alabama Power about bringing electric lines to the house. The company told them it would cost $47,000 to bring power the 2 miles to their home, she said. They decided to do without, Osbourn said. They, and her mother who also lives on the property, used kerosene lanterns, a Coleman Stove and a woodburning stove. The refrigerator runs on propane, she said.
In the last couple of years after her husband died, Osbourn retired her kerosene lanterns. She had the house wired for electricity and is now using solar panels and a 25-foot windmill for power, Osbourn said.
“I have lights; my mother has her DirecTV and I have my satellite Internet,” Osbourn said.
If Alabama Power offered to hook up her house for free, she wouldn’t do it, she said. She’s become a fan of not having a power bill and of green energy, she said.
“We’re too dependent on foreign oil, domestic oil,” Osbourn said. “With wind power, if the wind’s blowing you have power.”
To her, a road closing also would be a benefit, she said. It would keep people on four-wheelers from tearing up the roads and woods, Osbourn said.
A family’s differing views
Perhaps nowhere else is the difference of opinions so volatile as in the Cofield family. Johnny and Cheryle Cofield own 124 acres on the mountain and co-own through the family business Cofield Brothers Pulpwood Co. another 700 acres on the mountain.
When Wind Capital Group was investigating the project, the company talked to them about using some of their 124 acres for windmills, Johnny Cofield said. Nations Energy Solutions has since taken over the project.
Cofield wants more information about the project, though. He would like to visit Buffalo Mountain Energy Center in Tennessee, to get an idea of what they’re like and how they might impact the mountain. But he’s also a firm believer in a property owner’s right to do what he wants with his own property, Cofield said.
He wouldn’t campaign against a land owner who wanted to put wind turbines on his property, Cofield said.
“There’s not one inch of public land up there,” his wife pointed out.
People in the area have gotten used to using the property as if it were public lands because the timber companies that used to own it didn’t police the lands, she said. However, since 1989, when they first bought property on the mountain, they have had to deal with four-wheelers tearing up the property, she added.
“It’s been a battle,” Cheryle Cofield said.
On the other hand, their son, Shad Cofield, lives on property on County Road 614 which runs parallel to County Road 852 near the bottom of the mountain. He is against the project.
He’s tried to research wind turbines, but there is so much contradictory information online about them, he doesn’t know what to think, Shad Cofield said. So, he’s taken a firm stand against the proposed windfarm and said he is even considering selling his home to get away from it, their son said.
Shad Cofield knows it’s causing a problem between him and his dad.
“We can’t even have a discussion because I get fighting mad,” he said. “It’s just got me so upset. The whole matter is so upsetting, more than I think the windmills will be.”