Tempers flared between opposing sides Monday night after two resolutions opposing a proposed Crab Orchard area wind farm project failed to pass the Cumberland County Commission.
A group of nearly 100 people attended the meeting, packing the large meeting room to a standing-room-only capacity. Many of them opposed the project, and several expressed their disappointment in the vote by hollering “shame on you” to county commissioners after the vote.
Crab Orchard Wind is a 71-megawatt wind farm proposed on Millstone Mountain near Crab Orchard in eastern Cumberland County. According to Apex Green Energy, the company behind the project, Crab Orchard Wind would include 20 to 23 turbines that could reach a total height of 656 feet, from ground to tip of the turbine blade.
During the public comment period, prior to the county commission voting on the resolutions, several members of the public made comments in support of the resolutions and against the Apex Green Energy project.
There were also several comments made in support of the project and land owner rights.
However, those opposing the project were clearly in the majority. Many spoke at last month’s county commission meeting, as well. Several of them wore red T-shirts that said “Stop the Turbines.”
Speaking in favor of the resolutions and against the project were John Patterson of Crossville, George Chiaramonte of Fairfield Glade and Jim Martin of Millstone Mountain.
Speaking against the resolutions were Randall Kidwell of Crossville, Harry Snyder of Virginia Apex Green Energy, Jim Babinsack, Donnie Jones of Millstone Mountain, Jordan Johnson of Fairfield Glade and Chad Thompson, who read a letter from a Millstone Mountain property owner.
Robert Rice, the property owner, was in Vanderbilt Hospital and unable to be present.
Thompson read the letter, in which Rice stated, “I own 200 acres on Millstone Mountain and have entered into an agreement with Apex (Energy) and the property has been in our family for years …”
The letter continued saying his family helped build some of the roads that were on the mountain and over the decades he has seen the mountain harvested for timber, rock, coal and oil. He wanted to keep the property in the family in the lease was a way to be sure it would stay in the family.
Rice’s letter stated he thought the wind farm was a “graceful way to harvest renewable energy” and felt they were being unfairly targeted for restrictions on their land if the resolutions were to pass.
Kidwell said he was not in favor of the wind farm project, but he did not support resolutions where property owner’s rights were impaired or violated. He quoted James Madison and said property owner rights were being attacked from every level of government and the basics of the formation of the country was the ability to own land.
Chiaramonte said in Europe the wind turbines were originally a big hit but the government realized wind turbines were costing too much and the country of Denmark has reduced using them.
He also cited health concerns and compared the clean energy and wind farm projects today to the tobacco industry and lung cancer of yesterday.
“It’s the same thing with this infrasound. In years you’re going to find a lot of sick children in the Crab Orchard school …,” Chiaramonte said.
He said infrasound does exist and it will have a negative effect on a lot of people.
“We need to avoid this whole thing,” he said.
Martin said the county had “stacked the deck with pro-turbine people.”
He said if you look at Anderson County and what they did, there won’t be that kind of economic prosperity in Cumberland County.
“Tourists won’t come to see them. They’re tired of them. It’s an enterprise that’s all over the place and they are no longer the novelty they once were. People despise them,” Martin said.
He said there would be $109 million in tourism revenue that could be lost and the “chump change” revenue from the wind farm wouldn’t make up for it.
The first resolution, sponsored by Sandra Baxter Dutcher, 9th District commissioner, resolution 07-2016-1, a resolution under Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 5-1-118, would authorize the county to regulate the uses of property where such use is found to be detrimental to the health, morals, comfort, safety convenience or welfare of the residents.
Dutcher made a motion to approve the resolution, stating it was not zoning and the resolution had more to do about the harm of people and the county preventing that from happening. She compared it to animal control.
To be approved it would require a two-thirds majority by the commission and any regulations proposed would also require a two-thirds majority to be enacted.
“This code section authorizes the county to create an ordinance to balance harm versus the benefit, not to tell people how to use their property…,” Dutcher said.
She further stated Crab Orchard Elementary School was only one mile away from the proposed wind turbine site on Millstone Mountain and there were 500 children at risk of the negative effects of the wind turbines.
She also said there would be 600,000 pounds going across the county’s roads and bridges during the construction phase and there would be considerable harm and damage to those.
Dutcher said if the county adopted the ordinance, the company would have to pay to repair the roads and shield the school and possibly even pay for a new school.
She also referred to the tax dollars Fairfield Glade brings into the county’s revenue stream citing tourism, property taxes, sales taxes, jobs created through Fairfield Glade and its visitors to Cumberland County.
Dutcher referred to tourism dollars and said, “You’re making a mistake if you think $250,000 of revenue (from the Apex Energy Project) is going to replace the tourism revenue over the next few years.”
Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner, said, “Effectively, this really is zoning. If adopted the county will have the power to define uses of property liable to cause harm. It’s a zoning statute and it doesn’t apply to a municipality, meaning anything could be done in Crab Orchard, Crossville or Pleasant Hill … It’s a mistake to adopt this. You’re giving the county commission the power to do a variety of other things under zoning. I’m not for or against the wind farm. I think you should have worked with legislators to get the state to pass regulations … we can’t do anything. I will oppose this resolution and will vote no.”
Some people shouted “yes, you can by approving this.”
Dave Hassler, 3rd District commissioner, said, “I’m sorry, but this is zoning.”
Wendell Wilson, 6th District commissioner, called the question for the vote.
Voting in favor were commissioners Rebecca Stone, 3rd District; and Dutcher and Geisler.
Voting against the resolution were commissioners Sabine and Tracey Scarbrough, 1st District; Tom Isham and Nancy Hyder, 2nd District; Hassler, 3rd District; Allen Foster and David Gibson, 4th District; Jack Davis and Terry Lowe, 5th District; Wilson and Terry Carter, 6th District; Roy Turner, 7th District; and Tim Claflin, 8th District.
The motion failed in a 13-3 vote.
•Resolution 07-2016-2 – a resolution joining with Fairfield Glade Community Club, the city of Crossville and Cumberland County state and federal representatives in finding the proposed Crab Orchard wind farm to be detrimental to the general welfare and best interests of the residents of Cumberland County also failed.
The resolution stated Sen. Lamar Alexander, Congressman Diane Black, state Sen. Paul Bailey and state Rep. Cameron Sexton, the directors of the Fairfield Glade Community Club, Crossville City Council and at least 2,000 people and residents who signed petitions were against the Crab Orchard Wind Farm Project.
It further stated the groups had all found the wind farm would have long-term negative consequences for the aesthetic beauty of the region and tourism and vehicles involved in the construction of the wind farm would cause damage to the roadways and bridges in the county.
It also stated numerous medical and scientific and local governmental agencies have determined there was growing evidence that “wind turbines appear to have a negative impact on property values, health, and quality of life of residents in close proximity.”
The resolution said the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners would join the many voices to find Apex Wind Farm to be a project detrimental to the residents of Cumberland County.
“We should not allow anyone to destroy the environment in the name of saving it,” the resolution concluded.
It failed in a 10-6 vote after a motion for approval was made by Dutcher. Geisler supported the motion.
Voting in favor of adopting the resolution of opposition were commissioners Stone, Foster, Carter, Claflin, Geisler and Dutcher.
Voting against the resolution were commissioners Sabine, Scarbrough, Hyder, Isham, Hassler, Gibson, Davis, Lowe, Wilson and Turner.
Commissioners Elbert Farley, 7th District; and Sonya Rimmer, 8th District; did not attend the meeting.
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