March 11, 2015

Neighbors rally around wind farm lawsuit

Emily Allen, Multimedia Journalist/Target 13 Investigator | mar 10, 2015 |

FALCON, Colo. – It was standing room only at a meeting Tuesday organized by people suing El Paso County and an energy company over a wind farm going up in Falcon.

Four people and the organization El Paso County Property Rights Coalition filed a lawsuit last week against El Paso County and the energy company NextEra Energy Resources, LLC.

In 2013, NextEra was granted a permit to build a wind farm near Calhan. In the original plan, power lines would run underground near Highway 24. However, last month the company proposed changing the plan include overhead transmission lines. After a 15-hour meeting, El Paso County Commissioners approved the company’s changes.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim county commissioners ignored their jurisdiction. Also, the plaintiff argue commissioners violated their constituents constitutional rights by stifling public comment and acting under coercion from threats from NextEra who allegedly told commissioners it would pull the project if changes were not approved.

The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction to halt the project.

Eric Henderson is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and lead Tuesday night’s meeting.

“We want to be good neighbors. We didn’t instigate this fight or this conflict but we won’t shy from it either,” he said.

Henderson and other meeting attendees said commissioners ignored constituents when making their decision.

“Our elected officials aren’t listening to us,” said John Huber.

“[Commissioners decided] to side with the out-of-state power company despite overwhelming opposition from their constituents in eastern El Paso County,” said Henderson.

However, El Paso County defended its decision in a press release sent out by county spokesperson Dave Rose:

“The county believes that the requested changes were a given full and thoughtful consideration, established processes were followed and evidence on both sides of the land use request was considered in making a final determination.”

Commissioner Amy Lathen also said it was a fair process.

“There are claims made that there was no public process, that we stifled public comment. We would have been here until the following morning if that’s what it took. We heard every person in the room,” said Lathen.

She also said allegations that commissioners met privately with NextEra are not true.

But Henderson and residents affected by the project said the allegations are true and the project must be stopped.

Several people expressed concern about the effect the decision has had on the value of their property.

“We have saved up our money over the course of our career to retire in a beautiful community and that’s not going to happen. I just really think that dream is going to be crushed,” said Jean Henderson.

One woman said it’s created tension in her neighborhood.

“It’s almost caused a range war in some instances. There has been an extreme amount of anger in my area,” said Laura Phares-Wilson.

The request for a temporary injunction could be reviewed by a judge in the next several weeks.

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