Citizens voice concerns over ridgetop ordinance
by Allen Worrell
Carroll County supervisors heard from eight citizens in a public hearing April 15 on the proposed ordinance for construction of tall structures on certain ridgelines.
Carroll supervisors have been discussing the topic for over a year after EDP Renewables/Horizon Wind Energy proposed a wind farm on Stoots Mountain early in 2012. The county previously tabled a proposed windmill ordinance that the board worried could hinder economic development in Carroll County. The new ordinance is more regulatory in nature, and would require a permit to build a structure 40 to 100 feet on protected mountain ridges in the county. The ordinance also prohibits construction of any structure over 100 foot tall on the protected mountain ridges, including Stoots Mountain and other areas outlined on a Carroll County map during the board’s March meeting.
Erica Largen, a senior at Virginia Tech, was the first to speak, noting that the farm roots of her family date back to the 1800s. Before graduating in May, Largen said she will turn in a final project which weighs the costs and benefits of wind regulation options in Carroll County.
“I am a future landowner who wants to protect the values of my land from ill-conceived restrictions so it can be passed to my children. This ordinance does not protect the welfare or values of the Carroll County people,” Largen told the board. “We’re not interested in zoning restrictions on our ridgeline property for houses, farms, churches or other tall buildings over 40 feet.”
Largen said noise, setbacks and decommissioning are three things not regulated Carroll should address when developing a wind ordinance. She told supervisors she hoped they would look at her Virginia Tech project results and make a level-headed decision that will work to regulate wind development and protect the safety and heritage of the community.
“The more I learn, the more I am driven to protect the natural resources of Carroll County to sustain a vibrant economy. This will uphold or undermine our right to make private land-use decisions,” Largen said. “This will define who we are as a community by how we are allowed to use our resources and what heritage we will pass to our children. I beg you to not pass this impractical ordinance.”
Brian Dixon wanted to know whose idea was it to draft the ordinance. Board Chairman David Hutchins responded that it came about through the request of citizens. Dixon told the board he felt like he was being “zoned out” by the county.
“This is not zoning. I know Ms. Largen repeatedly said that in an effort to tie it to zoning,” Hutchins said. “That is not what it is.”
Brad Carico said he’s read the ordinance and he called the title of it misleading.
“Let’s call this what it is. This is not a ridgeline ordinance. We are banning windmills,” Carico said. “Good, bad, ugly, that’s what it is.”
Carico said a recent online poll asked people if they supported industrial wind development in Carroll County and 90 percent of those that responded said yes.
“Let the people of Carroll County vote on it. Put it off until November. Let’s put it on a ballot,” Carico said. “I don’t care what you say, it’s backdoor zoning. If the people of Carroll County want that, then I will be at peace with it. Let democracy rule. Don’t let six people make the decision that is important for 30,000.”
Citizen Andy Jones said if the county is going to put up windmills at Stoots Mountain, it may as well put them all over the county.
“These windmills are fine if we do it in the whole county. Let’s put five or six in Laurel Fork. Let’s put up five or six in Fancy Gap. Put up new lights up so they can see down there and we don’t have as much wrecks,” Jones said. “Put five in Woodlawn, five in Sylvatus and let’s break it up. If we are going to mess it up and mess up Carroll County, let’s do it right. Let’s put these things all over the county, let’s not just put it in one area.”
Robert Burnette of Pot Rock said windmills on Stoots Mountain would not take away from the scenery there.
“As far as Stoots Mountain, you ain’t going to hurt the looks of it because I have been on it, walked it, and it ain’t nothing but a rock pile,” he said. “It ain’t no different than anybody buying land and putting a McDonald’s on it if they want to make money on it. That is their land. They bought it, they worked their guts out for it. If these people want these windmills in here for clean energy, let them have it. So what if they can make some money on it? That is what America is about.”
Chad Austin of Pipers Gap wanted to know if the supervisors knew of any tax benefits the county would receive from building windmills. Hutchins said those numbers are being worked on. Austin felt like windmills could help ease the tax burden on Carroll citizens.
“They could reduce your taxes. If it is $500,000 or $100,000 a year, we have 30,000 people in Carroll county. That is a percentage of everybody’s taxes that could go down, or it could be used to build a school instead of borrowing money,” Austin said. “We’ve got a population of 30,000 people approximately and we are basing this decision on about 100 people. That is a small percentage. Why not do what Brad said and let democracy rule? Send it to the ballot.”
Local land surveyor Tom Slusher said he felt the ordinance was an effort to eliminate the possibility of a windmill being built in Carroll. He found the ordinance discriminatory against those that own property on the mountain.
“Everyone should enjoy their property with a right to develop their land and reap a profit from that if that is what their initial intention was, to make an investment. That is the American way,” Slusher said.
The ordinance also could prohibit future development on ridgelines that could potentially bring in huge tax dollars, Slusher said.
“This is just another regulation that I don’t think we need,” Slusher said.
The board then heard from Jonathan Miles, a professor of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University, where he is also the director at the Center for Wind Energy. He said he would speak to the ordinance and offer his own perspective, looking at it as an opportunity to guide Carroll County in wind development.
“As wind ordinances go this one is lacking, and I say that very objectively. Ms. Largen already mentioned that it doesn’t address sound emission, and that is critical,” Miles said. “That is important for landowners and homeowners who are going to live in any proximity to a wind farm. Decommissioning is an issue. You ought to be protected in your community against turbines that are no longer functional, left in disrepair and without the proper means to remove those.”
Erosion and sedimentation can be another area that a local ordinance would want to address, he said, adding that he had a hand in developing a model ordinance for large, utility-scale wind development for the Department of Environmental Quality. He advised the county to look at that model ordinance and see how Carroll’s ordinance might be revised.
“As it stands right now, this is so restrictive that not a single wind turbine is ever going to get built in Carroll County should this be passed. The 100-foot restriction here would even apply if a landowner had some ridgetop property and wanted to put up the smallest turbine you could imagine perhaps to provide power locally onsite to that person’s farm,” Miles said. “It is not going to happen within 100 feet, so immediately you’ve got a problem there.”
Another issue in the ordinance calls for certification that a tall structure would collapse inwardly. Turbines very rarely collapse, but when they do they topple, they don’t collapse inward, Miles said.
“So if the intention is to address this as a wind ordinance, this is going to be highly problematic and it is going to essentially restrict all development,” he said.
Miles also encouraged the board to take advantage of the resources the Center for Wind Energy offers, and to look closely at the opportunities taxation will bring to the county. He felt like Stoots Mountain would be a very good site for a “smallish, large utility-scale project.”
After the public hearing, Hutchins said the board wouldn’t be making any decisions on the proposed ordinance until it has had a chance to discuss it more and gather additional information. Supervisor Joshua Hendrick then requested the ordinance be put on the agenda for supervisors’ May meeting.
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