A lawsuit against the El Paso County Commissioners is over. It was dismissed Wednesday.
The suit was filed by neighbors and it also named the energy company responsible, NextEra Energy Resources, for a wind farm and power poles across eastern El Paso County.
11 News talked to homeowners about the fact that the farm is almost finished. This is Jay Kennedy’s view from his back yard in Peyton.
Just six months ago, he and his wife had an unobstructed view of Pikes Peak. Now, power lines and a large power pole, interrupt the mountain’s majesty.
“It’s been frustrating and disheartening. I mean it’s, I don’t know what else to say other than that. It’s just, it’s an eyesore,” Kennedy told us.
When it all started, neighbors were told the power lines would be underground. After a lot of debate, and a public hearing, county commissioners agreed to allow NextEra, to put them above the ground, in the view.
In March several other neighbors filed a lawsuit as the “El Paso County Property Rights Coalition” against county commissioners saying they abused their power by approving the changes.
Wednesday, that lawsuit was dismissed.
Kennedy was never a part of the suit. Though, he and his wife are angry and feel the commissioners did not listen to what neighbors wanted. They’re now doing their best to move on.
“We’re just kind of, learning to accept,” Kennedy said. “We’re not happy about it, but we’re learning to accept it.”
The wind farm is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
We also reached out to the coalition Wednesday but they had no immediate comment about the dismissal.
Previous Coverage 3/9/15
The battle over construction of a local wind farm is heating up.
Now a group of property owners is suing the board of El Paso County Commissioners. County commissioners deny any wrong doing.
Joan Wilson is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the commissioners abused their power when they approved a four-mile stretch of power lines go above ground instead of below for the wind farm project in eastern El Paso County.
“They’re big. They’re ugly. I didn’t buy this place to have those transmission lines out here,” explained Wilson.
11 News is getting answers about why El Paso County commissioners voted to allow high voltage power lines to run above ground in eastern El Paso County.
This has been controversial from the start. NextEra Energy got approval to run lines underground for their wind farm back in December of 2013. Then a few months ago they asked commissioners to put a four-mile section of them above ground. That’s the part that angered so many homeowners.
11 News talked with El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen. This is her district. We asked her even with all those strong objections why she still voted yes. She said if commissioners didn’t approve the re-zone, NextEra threatened to cancel the whole project.
“Hey guys, we want you to go ahead and keep this original agreement. They said if we did, the project would not go forward,” explained Lathen.
If NextEra stopped the project, Lathen says they could then turn around and sue the county.
“If we just decided we just don’t want you to develop somewhere because we don’t like it, that’s considered arbitrary and capricious under the law. Any applicant, whether it’s a large company like this, or a small developer or a land owner, can file suit,” said Lathen.
Construction is set to start in March. NextEra plans to have the wind farm fully operational by the end of the year.
A heated battle over aboveground power lines went well past midnight Friday, finally ending with an unanimous vote in favor of the proposal.
El Paso County commissioners and dozens of homeowners wrangled for almost 15 hours over the issue.
At the center of the fight: proposed changes to a wind farm project in El Paso County. Project managers say those changes–putting a four-mile stretch of power lines above ground instead of below–will be less costly and easier to repair. Residents living along the route where the power lines will be placed say they’ll not only be an eyesore, but also severely hurt the value of their homes.
The fight between residents and commissioners was intense at times, with four residents nearly getting kicked out of the board meeting shortly before midnight. In the end, despite passionate pleas from the homeowners, county commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of the proposal. Commissioner Sallie Clark was not at the meeting.
Several homeowners stormed out of the meeting while shouting at commissioners after the vote.
Back in December of 2013 El Paso County commissioners approved a proposal for the Golden West Wind Energy Project, a wind farm in northeastern El Paso County.
Days later, Florida based Nextera Energy–the nation’s largest producer of renewable energy–bought the wind farm from Fowler Wind Energy.
The wind farm would span 30,000 acres around Calhan and Falcon, and could have as many as 145 wind turbines.
The approved project route originally went along Highway 24 and once it got near the Meadow Lake Airport, the power lines were supposed to go underground.
Then Nextera proposed re-zoning part of the project, putting a four-mile section of 112-foot-tall power lines above ground, right in front of homes.
At Thursday’s hearing over the proposal, Nextera argued that there are no negative effects of power lines related to property values. Their project manager told 11 News that running power lines above ground will be less costly and easier to repair than underground lines.
Angry homeowners countered that Nextera employees won’t be the ones living with the power lines.
“They don’t have the right to impose their will on me and have to live with something that’s going to change my livelihood and that’s going to take away what we live here for, a big part is our scenery,” Falcon resident Jay Kennedy said.
Other residents echoed Kennedy’s concern that the power lines would block their view of Pikes Peak.
Kennedy’s neighbor worried no one would want to buy a home sitting next to power lines.
“A lot of studies show a 10 to 15 percent decrease in property value,” Laura Foye said. “I’m going to say no one is going to volunteer to live next to them. The property tends to sit on the market for longer: three, six, nine months longer.”
County commissioners’ stance
Commissioner Dennis Hisey said he sympathized with the homeowners’ concerns, and was conflicted due to the potential devaluation of homes. He said his vote in favor of the power lines ultimately hinged on his belief that homeowners would only be affected in the short term.
Commissioner Peggy Littleton compared the installation of the power lines to putting up a 7-Eleven near homes; that property owners’ rights end at the property line.
Commissioner Darryl Glenn said he supported the above ground lines, and didn’t believe the homeowners’ stance would hold up in court.
Commissioner Amy Lathen, who is assigned to the district affected by the project, told 11 News prior to Thursday’s meeting that she was concerned about how close the proposed lines could be to homes.
“I really pushed in our last hearing for a half mile set back at the very minimum. There is an impact with there is no question about it.”
What happens next
Nextera plans to start construction in March.
The “El Paso County Property Rights Coalition” wants to put a stop to the entire wind farm, but county commissioners say that’s not possible.
“The original approval from back in December of 2013 still exists. So NextEra can go ahead and build that,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen. “At this point in time it’s considered a vested right, because decisions have been made based on that permit that was granted. They have the ability to go forward with that project.”
Ultimately it will be up to a judge to decide if the commissioners did anything wrong. If a judge finds wrong doing by the commissioners, the only change would be to get the lines back under ground.
The commissioners have not officially been served the lawsuit. Construction on the project will start at the end of March.
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