Chowan County kicks proposed wind law changes down the road

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From left, Clerk Suzanne Stallings; Commissioner Keith Nixon; Chairman Jeff Smith; Commissioner Greg Bonner; Vice Chairman Alex Kehayes; Commissioner John Mitchener; Commissioner Ellis Lawrence; County Manager Kevin Howard; and, County Attorney John Morrison.

From left, Clerk Suzanne Stallings; Commissioner Keith Nixon; Chairman Jeff Smith; Commissioner Greg Bonner; Vice Chairman Alex Kehayes; Commissioner John Mitchener;
Commissioner Ellis Lawrence; County Manager Kevin Howard; and, County Attorney John Morrison.

CHOWAN COUNTY — Last week, a subcommittee of the county’s Planning Board reviewed proposed changes to the Chowan County Wind Energy Ordinance. There was considerable discussion questioning the conclusions of the subcommittee. In the end, however, the proposed changes were passed up the totem pole.

Two nights later on Thursday, April 2, a meeting of the entire Planning Board took place in order to agree on the language of the proposed changes, which would subsequently be submitted to elected officials who are the ultimate decision makers — the Chowan County Board of Commissioners.

The Planning Board Chairman, Mr. Sarratt, began the proceedings stating that the proposed changes were to be considered in its entirety and that discussions of various aspects could take place but the revised ordinance has a whole was to be voted on by the Board. There had been an attempt by forces that were opposed to changes in the ordinance, to break down the elements of the proposed changes, and in so doing to undermine the entire process.

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The Planning Board discussed the six topical guides from more than four dozen suggested areas of concern. After considerable discussion, the motion was made and seconded to vote on the proposed changes suggested by the subcommittee, yielding three votes for the proposed changes; three against, and one abstention.

County attorney John Morrison was present and stated his legal opinion that an abstention was the same as a yes vote. Morrison did everything that he could to let the abstaining voter, Mr. Leggett, know the impact of what his abstention meant and gave him plenty of opportunity to vote one way or the other, but Mr. Leggett declined to vote and his abstention was reported as a vote in favor of the proposed changes.

This split vote by the Planning Board was a factor when the County Commissioners considered the measure at their April 6 meeting.

The chief opponent proved to be Commissioner Emmitt Winborne. His remarks were obviously pro-wind energy and against proposed changes submitted by the Planning Board. However, as the various commissioners spoke about this matter, it was perfectly obvious that they did not want any changes made to the current wind ordinance.

On the one hand, the commissioners readily accepted that the Planning Board had been given only one month to complete its review; yet, on the other hand, they were critical of what has been presented within the available timeline.

Winborne had the county clerk read back the minutes from a prior meeting in which the county commissioners suggested that the Planning Board seek out appropriate experts to advise them on how to prepare their recommendations.

But, when the Planning Board expressed their concerns about the timeline being too short, Winborne seemed quite unsympathetic.

The Board of County Commissioners concluded that it would be in the county’s best interest to consult NC State University and Appalachian State University for input. The consensus was that both of these schools had done studies that would benefit elected officials in their deliberations.

Insiders familiar with the matter conceded that such a decision was tantamount to killing the work of the Planning Board. Turning the issue over to a ‘think tank’ may give the board validation for any future vote.

Editor’s note: We thank reporter John Woodard for his series of articles on this controversial topic in Chowan County. Many observers believe the county’s Planning Board has been used as a scapegoat by a board of commissioners who never wanted to vote for any changes, opting instead for short-term economic advantage. The Planning Board clearly attempted – within the time available — to provide a meaningful consideration of a very technical, complex and contentious issue.

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