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Rockbridge County asks Botetourt to delay wind farm action

LEXINGTON – Botetourt County’s northern neighbor is keeping a wary eye on a proposed wind farm that it would be able to see but not control.

The Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors voted Monday night to ask that Botetourt County delay action on a zoning application for the project, citing concerns that it had only recently learned about the proposal.

North Mountain, the spot in Botetourt where Apex Clean Energy wants to build up to 25 turbines, is just a few miles from the Botetourt-Rockbridge line.

If plans for the wind farm go through, the giant windmills could be seen from all five voting districts of Rockbridge County, the board of supervisors said in a resolution asking their neighboring county’s board of supervisors to put things on hold for 90 days.

The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday on Apex’s application for a special exception permit, which would allow the project to move forward. The board could then take action on the matter.

While acknowledging that they have no control over what Botetourt does, Rockbridge supervisors expressed concerns about not receiving formal notice of the application process until early this month.

“One has to wonder” about regional cooperation when that happens, Supervisor R.S. Ford said.

“You gentlemen would do well by your neighbors if you were to go a little more slowly here,” he said, addressing Botetourt Supervisors John Williamson and Todd Dodson, who were among an audience that tilted against the windmills.

Most of Botetourt’s 33,000 residents live in the southern part of the county, far from the views of turbines that would affect many in Rockbridge County, resident Clark Brown said during a public hearing that preceded Monday’s vote.

“These wind turbines will be forever a blight on this valley,” Brown said.

Although Apex’s plans have been in the news for a year now, Rockbridge County officials said it was not until Jan. 4 that they received a formal notice, as an adjoining locality, that the special exception permit was to be considered at a Jan. 11 meeting of the Botetourt County Planning Commission.

The chairman of Rockbridge’s board of supervisors wrote to the planning commission, asking for a delay so his board could learn more about the plan. No delay was granted, and the planning commission voted to recommended approval of the permit by the board of supervisors.

Although there has been some opposition to the wind farm in Botetourt, supporters there have outnumbered detractors at public meetings.

The crowd at Monday’s meeting was different, with many of the speakers complaining about what they would consider an eyesore and a threat to the pristine woodland of North Mountain, which extends into Rockbridge County.

“This project will dissect the ridgetop ecosystem with losses to plant and wildlife habitat,” said Lee Merrill, co-president of the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council.

Bill Van Velzer, a Botetourt County resident who last year was part of an unsuccessful lawsuit that challenged the county ordinance regulating wind farms, told the Rockbridge supervisors that there would be no harm in slowing the process down to allow more investigation.

“There is much, much, much more here than what you see on the surface,” he said.