HERTFORD – An administrative law judge has sided against a Perquimans County couple who sued to block the Amazon wind farm, agreeing state officials acted properly when they approved plans for the 22,000-acre wind energy project in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties.
Stephen Owens and Jillanne Badawi had challenged last year the decision by the then-N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to allow Iberdrola Renewables to proceed with its wind farm project then known as Desert Wind.
Helping Owens and Badawi press their lawsuit against the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, the new name for DENR, was the conservative Raleigh-based Civitas Institute. The couple and Civitas claimed that a law passed by the General Assembly in 2013 requiring an extra review of wind energy projects should have applied to the Iberdrola wind farm.
Civitas argued that Iberdrola changed the location and size of some of the turbines it planned to erect after getting a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration. Therefore, the wind farm company should have had to restart the state permitting process for its Desert Wind project.
Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter did not agree, however.
In her ruling on Wednesday, she said, “Even if the language of the wind act and the grandfather clause are construed to be ambiguous, the purpose of the grandfather clause, the circumstances surrounding the wind act’s enactment and the structure and language of the wind act show the N.C. General Assembly intended for the Desert Wind project to be exempt from the wind act, notwithstanding the minor changes to the Desert Wind project after the May 21, 2013 effective date of the wind act.”
Elliot Engstrom, the lead attorney for Civitas, said he wasn’t sure where the Perquimans couple’s challenge will go from here. Lassiter gave the state 15 days to submit paperwork to her so the case can be closed.
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Engstrom said Thursday, referring to the future of the lawsuit. “I have to talk to my clients first.”
Owens and Badawi were not immediately available for comment.
The Attorney General’s office handled the case on behalf of the state. A spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday the parties in the lawsuit are now required to file a joint proposed final decision in the matter. After the judge issues a final decision in the case, the plaintiffs can appeal.
Owens and Badawi’s challenge has not stopped progress on the Iberdrola project, now known as the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East. The company has been completing site work for the wind farm for months and plans to erect the first of the 104 turbines within the next two weeks. The entire project is supposed to be complete by December.
Iberdrola was not an actual party in Owens and Badawi’s lawsuit. The suit was against the state regulatory agency. Weyerhaeuser, which leases some of the land for the wind project was a respondent, as was Pasquotank County. Both Perquimans and Pasquotank counties stand to gain $250,000 a year in tax revenue when the project is complete.
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