HEFLIN – The Cleburne County Commission Monday passed without comment a proposed set of regulations governing the construction of wind turbines in the county. The regulations would have to be approved at the state level before they can applied to any business venture.
A proposal to construct wind turbines on Turkey Heaven Mountain by Oklahoma-based Nations Energy Solutions has brought dozens of residents to county commission meetings for nearly a year. Opponents of the project cited fears of how the turbines would affect surrounding landowners. They have brought up aesthetic and medical issues as well as falling property values as possible consequences of the wind turbines moving into the county.
Some of the property owners near Turkey Heaven Mountain, between Heflin and Ranburne, also filed a lawsuit against Nations Energy Solutions in June in an effort to stop the project.
Other residents have lobbied for the project and the tax dollars it could bring to the county.
The company has yet to make a commitment to build in the county. That decision was to be made sometime this year, a developer with the company had said. Attempts to reach the developer for comment Monday evening were unsuccessful.
At this time, Alabama has no wind farms and the state has no regulations for them. In its 2014 session, as several companies explored Alabama sites for wind turbine viability, the Legislature let die proposed statewide regulations that would have covered the industry.
However, Cherokee County, one of the areas being considered for a wind farm, created regulations of its own, which the Legislature did approve. The company looking to locate in Cherokee County pulled out of the deal in August citing the regulations as the reason.
The proposed legislation passed unanimously by the Cleburne Commission is based on the Cherokee County law, Commission Chairman Ryan Robertson said. The legislation includes regulations such as a 2,500 foot setback from adjacent property, a 40-decibel sound limit and safety features including fences at least 6 feet high surrounding the turbines, anti-climbing devices and high-voltage warning signs.
Carolyn Doggett, one of the residents who filed the lawsuit against the company proposing the project, said after the meeting that she was excited about the approval.
“We would have loved to have seen some stricter regulations for the noise and the setbacks,” Doggett said. “But we’re thankful for what we have.”
Doggett said she would still move forward with the lawsuit, though.
Fred Kitchens, one of the residents of Turkey Heaven Mountain who was negotiating with Nations Energy Solutions to place wind turbines on his property, said he believes the regulations are too strict.
“Those aren’t designed to regulate,” Kitchens said. “They’re designed for a moratorium.”
He said according to an estimate by the Cleburne County tax commissioner, the county stood to gain $16.5 million in taxes over the 22-year life of the project, he said. The schools would get $504,900 the first year alone, Kitchens said.
“I think it’s very unfortunate they’re driving business away from the county,” he said.
Glen Martin, one of the residents celebrating the approval of the regulations, said the issue was really property rights.
“What they do on their property affects our property rights,” Martin said. “As long as your fist doesn’t hit my nose, we’re good.”
In other business the commissioners:
— Appointed Suzanne Payne to the Cleburne County Department of Human Resources Board.
— Approved hiring a new 911 director.
— Approved hiring a part-time county compliance officer to deal with illegal burning and dumping, oversight of the county landfill and to assist residents with solid waste removal. The county will advertise to fill the compliance officer and the 911 director positions.
— Approved allowing elected officials to fill vacancies in their departments as needed. Departments under the commission’s oversight would still have to seek commissioners’ approval before filling vacant positions.
— Approved hiring seven people in the road department.
— Rescinded changes to the travel policy made in January and added that the county finance officer would inform the county administrator, commission chairman and commissioners by email of overnight travel requests before reservations or registrations are made.
— Tabled discussion of a referendum for a proposed gasoline tax of up to 5 cents a gallon.
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