HEFLIN – Proposed legislation would cut the Cleburne County Commission out of new tax revenue if companies decide to build wind turbines there.
State Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, sent a copy of the measure to The Cleburne News on Tuesday to be advertised for four weeks, a requirement before the bill can be introduced in the Senate.
The bill specifies that half of any new property tax revenue generated by wind turbines or similar energy producers be distributed to Cleburne County public schools, with the other half going to the Cleburne County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments.
Normally, the county’s general fund, roads and bridges fund and the hospital board would also benefit from the tax revenue. Attempts to reach Dial for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon. Ruth Cochran, who works in Dial’s office, said that his office is to be billed for the advertisement. Most advertisements dealing with local legislation are billed to the local governments that are affected.
Commissioner Bobby Brooks was stunned when he heard about the proposal. He hadn’t heard anything about the bill, Brooks said.
“That leaves the commission completely out,” he said Tuesday. “I’d want to discuss this a little more before I’d sign on to it.”
The proposed law is the latest twist in more than two years of developments since it was brought up in a public meeting that Nations Energy Solutions was testing Turkey Heaven Mountain as a possible site for a wind farm.
Complaints about the proposed wind turbines were almost immediate, as neighbors around the proposed site lobbied against the structures. Some started packing commission meetings, raising concerns about an assortment of issues, including property values, if the wind turbines were allowed. In June, some of the neighbors also filed a lawsuit to stop the proposed construction.
County commissioners, who had not been approached by the company for any concessions for the project, opposed supporting any regulations of the proposed site for nearly two years.
Then in February, the commissioners unanimously passed a resolution asking the Legislature to pass regulations modeled after those passed for Cherokee County.
Ryan Robertson, the commission chairman, said Dial had told him he was introducing local legislation that would take any wind turbine property taxes out of the commission’s hands, but he hadn’t taken Dial seriously.
“I thought he was just trying to scold us,” Robertson said Tuesday. “I think some of our Montgomery representatives think we did something behind their back.”
When commissioners passed a resolution asking the Legislature to pass a local bill, they did it without asking the local delegation’s approval, Robertson said. That’s typically not how the process works in Alabama, which requires state-level approval for a number of local issues, including most zoning issues in counties.
County Administrator Steve Swafford said that normally the local governments work with their representatives and senators to craft local legislation before it is taken to the Legislature. That wasn’t the case with the wind turbine regulations.
“We never sat down with them as a group,” Robertson said.
Commissioner Terry Hendrix also said he heard rumors about Dial’s bill, but hadn’t yet seen it.
“I was hoping that it wasn’t true,” Hendrix said. “Evidently, he’s not
going to support our regulations if he’s advertising this.”
Hendrix said Nations Energy Solutions had made it clear they would pull out of the project if the regulations were passed at the Statehouse. If they pull out, there would be no need for Dial’s new bill, Hendrix said.
Carolyn Doggett, of Cleburne County Wind Farm Awareness, the group lobbying for the regulations, disagreed. The regulations were not designed to keep wind turbines out of the county, just to protect their neighbors, Doggett said.
At first, many of them were set against having wind energy in the county, but over time, they changed their minds, she said.
“The more research we did, we realized that it’s something that’s coming,” Doggett said. “I think it’s inevitable, but before it comes to our county, I just hope it’s safer.”
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