HERTFORD – When the Perquimans Board of Commissioners makes its decision on whether to grant a conditional use permit to the Apex Clean Energy project, it will be without Commissioner Matt Peeler.
The board voted 3-2 Wednesday night to recuse Peeler from any further discussion and votes on the $300 million project.
Voting for recusal of their colleague from further participation on the permitting decision were board Chairwoman Janice Cole and Commissioners Fondella Leigh and Ed Muzzulin. Voting against recusal were Commissioners Wallace Nelson and Kyle Jones.
The board’s decision follows release of emails this week written by Peeler to others, including state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, that appear to show his desire to stop or severely limit wind power in the state.
“I will admit now and in the future I will oppose these things on their health and welfare impacts,” Peeler said in one email. “I applaud any action that puts a halt or greatly reduces the ability of these wind power plants in our state.”
The emails were brought to the board’s attention by Henry Campen, the lead attorney for Apex, who said they showed Peeler could not make an objective decision on Apex’s permit request, even though that’s what Peeler agreed to do during the board’s first quasi-judicial hearing on the request. Campen asked the Perquimans Board of Commissioners to recuse Peeler from the permitting decision.
Explaining her decision to vote for recusal, Cole said while it was possible for Peeler to separate his legislative role from his role as an impartial decider in the permit request, Peeler has consistently fought wind development, even the Desert Wind project which the board of commissioners had already approved.
“He took a position that he wanted to do anything he could do to stop the project,” Cole said.
Leigh said she was bothered by the email in which Peeler said, “I will admit now and in the future I will oppose these things on their health and welfare impacts.”
Muzzulin pointed out that all six commissioners attended a workshop in May where lawyers explained the quasi-judicial hearing process and were advised not to have contact with anyone involved in matters being considered at those hearings.
Jones said Peeler’s emails help erode the public’s trust in elected officials and the email to Sen. Cook was particularly troubling. At the time of the email, Cook was working on legislation critics have charged was designed to kill any wind or solar development in the state.
“It was a poor decision to do that,” Jones said.
For his part, Peeler responded that he could be objective on the Apex request when he was asked if he could be by Nelson. Peeler pointed out that, while he’s opposed to solar projects because he believes they don’t really fit in a rural area, he did vote for one of the four projects that have come before the board during his tenure as a commissioner.
“I couldn’t say no to it because the evidence said I had to say, ‘yes,” he said.
Following the vote, Peeler left his seat on the stage at the historic Perquimans County Courthouse where the board was meeting and took a seat in the audience.
Perquimans officials will likely resume the Apex hearings in October.
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