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Botetourt wind farm would be a hazard to aviation, FAA says in preliminary report

Up to 25 wind turbines would pose a “presumed hazard” to aircraft navigation from their perch atop North Mountain, the Federal Aviation Administration has determined.

The turbines, proposed to stand up to 549 feet tall on top of a Botetourt County ridgeline, would exceed the FAA’s obstruction standards and create “an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace,” the agency found after a preliminary study.

However, the finding may not be a severe setback for Apex Clean Energy, a renewable energy company that wants to build the state’s first commercial wind farm north of Eagle Rock.

At Apex’s request, the FAA has agreed to conduct a more detailed study.

The FAA is charged with evaluating how any structure over 200 feet tall – including buildings, cellphone towers and wind turbines – might impact aircraft passing overhead and arriving or departing from nearby airports.

Any structure higher than 499 feet is presumed to be a hazard. But with a formal aeronautical study now under way, Apex officials are hoping that additional information will lead the FAA to reconsider its presumption of risk.

Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler pointed to part of a written public notice from the FAA that states the turbines “would have no effect on any existing or proposed arrival, departure or en route instrument flight rules (IFR) operations or procedures.”

The Rocky Forge wind farm’s proposed location is about 17 nautical miles southeast of Ingalls Field in Hot Springs, the nearest public airport.

As part of its ongoing study, the FAA is taking public comments through Feb. 10. “Comments must be relevant to the effect the structure would have on aviation,” a public notice on the FAA’s website states.

Since Apex announced its plans a year ago, scattered opposition to the wind farm has consisted mostly of concerns about what the turbines would look like, the sounds they would make, and the impact they would have on the pristine woodland of northern Botetourt County.

Last week, the county’s planning commission recommended approval of a special exception permit that Apex is seeking for the project. The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the matter at its Jan. 26 meeting.