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Wind farm planning lacks visual considerations

Driving on the U.S. Highway 17 Bypass, the front porch of Elizabeth City, and there they are, the beginning of over 100 windmills on the front lawn of the city. I am sure new business will just run into the county when they are completed. How did this happen?

With federal rebates involved, and the scope of the project, there must have been an environmental analysis prepared. Didn’t the planner read it or was one never prepared? Did you not realize that wind mills, or the solar panels down the road, are utilities and in other parts of the country, they are screened.

Visual resource management is the proper planning of the visual landscape. It is the inventory consisting of the scenic quality of the landscape, sensitivity level analysis and a delineation of distance zones. What makes the visual impacts of the wind farm so troublesome is the closeness to the road. Most of the views are in the foreground or midground. Did the planner not realize this?

As a landscape architect, what I believe makes the wind farm project’s visual impacts so substantial is it is the dominant view of the motorist driving on the U.S. 17 Bypass. You are not looking at the Rocky Mountains which you can see from miles away. These are utilities. They should be screened. You have taken the rural farm landscape with agricultural buildings, farm equipment, and row crops and screwed it up.

You need to decide whether you want profit or a landscape that fits the character of northeast North Carolina. With good design you can have both. Visual resources are not window dressing. They affect the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the county. Ninety percent of our perception of the environment is through sight, and these sites, present a poor assessment of the county.

After you study the landscape in a bit more detail you will agree that the most cost effective solution to your problem can be solved this way. You have a rural landscape with little topographic diversity. When the farmer along the Route 17 Bypass harvests their corn or soybeans, secure a 150 feet wide vegetative buffer along the entire length of the interstate and plant native forest species. By the time it grows above 20 feet, the view will be screened to most motorists.

Robert T. Escheman