Edenton – Chowan County residents are fighting for more protections for property owners in the face of possible wind turbines going up in the Bear Swamp area of the county.
County residents submitted a petition with nearly 650 signatures to the county Board of Commissioners Monday night requesting that they take up a set of amendments to the county’s existing wind energy ordinance.
The current ordinance limits the height of wind turbines to 600 feet; includes a 55 decibel acoustic limit for any occupied non-participating landowner’s property; and requires a buffer zone around the wind turbines, with the nearest occupied building on the closest non-participating property to be equal to two and a half times the height of the wind turbine.
The ordinance also requires builders of wind turbines to remove them after 12 months of no power generation and to maintain a bond for the estimated removal cost, minus the value of the materials if sold for scrap.
Proponents of the proposed amendments say the amendments are needed because the existing ordinance does not provide sufficient protections for wildlife, health and property owners, in line with similar ordinances passed by localities across the country.
About a dozen people, mostly county residents, spoke for and against the proposed amendments.
Lin Bond, a Chowan County resident, presented the petition at the meeting.
Bond was joined by Elliot Engstrom, an attorney with the Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom (CLF), at the meeting.
CLF is a public-interest law firm that provides free legal services to North Carolinians who face difficult legal and policy issues.
The proposed amendments include an extension of the buffer zone to one mile, accommodations to pay landowners for any independently verified property value lost, a new upper acoustic level of 35 decibels, and the formation of an escrow account to pay county expenses related to the wind turbines.
Following nearly 45 minutes of comments for and against the turbines during the public comment period, Bond officially presented the petition to the board.
“I’m not here to pick a fight with you, I’m not here to make a scene on behalf of residents or something like that,” Engstrom said. “I am just here to facilitate discussions on their behalf.”
He said that the plaintiffs approached him about writing a letter to the board, which he did, and then he came to observe the meeting.
Bond presented the petition and made himself available for questions, flanked by Engstrom, who said he was there to help the plaintiffs as well as assist Bond, who is hard of hearing.
The board said that Bond would be expected to answer the questions for himself, which Bond could not hear, drawing a chuckle from the crowd.
Bond, who was born and raised in Edenton, spoke to the board about the revised ordinance presented to the Board by the county Planning Committee.
The Board has yet to take the recommendations up.
“All of these recommendations, of course, address the health and welfare and the economic welfare of Chowan County and Edenton,” he said. “I’m here tonight to present you with a petition with over 645 signatures from our friends and neighbors across the county. Half of these signatures are from individuals south of US-17, half are north of US-17.”
Bond said that included with the petition was a letter from the riverside property association in the county, representing 245 landowners, urging the Board to adopt the recommended amendments from the planning committee.
The Board in turn had no questions for Bond.
The Board elected not to vote on whether to hold a public hearing on the suggested changes, partially due to the absence of Commissioner Ellis Lawrence.
Chairman Jeff Smith recused
New County Attorney Lauren Arizaga-Womble, a month into the job, advised Board Chairman Jeff Smith that, because he has been approached by Apex Clean Energy about putting wind turbines on his property, he should recuse himself from all matters relating to wind turbines moving forward.
Arizaga-Womble said that Smith had part ownership in a family company that is in negotiations with Apex energy, causing his conflict.
One map shows Smith’s family property as being a future site for a wind turbine.
She said he can discuss legislative matters but not vote in them, but can neither discuss nor vote in quasi-judicial matters, such as approving a conditional use permit.
Smith said that he disagreed with the advice, but would follow Arizaga-Womble’s counsel.
“One thing that I would like to say, I don’t necessarily agree with this recommendation of the attorney. I feel like we have not signed a contract and are not in a financial situation with Apex, and I am depriving the people of my community of a vote in this matter,” Smith said.
Arizaga-Womble is a civil litigator with Tilliford Law Firm, the same firm the previous county attorney, John Morrison, is from.
Arizaga-Womble went on to say that, to the best of her knowledge, Commissioner Emmett Winborne does not have a financial interest in wind turbines, as some have speculated, leaving him clear to participate in discussions and votes.