Oral arguments set in wind energy lawsuit
Insiders agree case has David vs. Goliath flair
RALEIGH — As this paper goes to press, a hearing is taking place in Raleigh that will have a major impact on whether or not wind energy developers will be regulated under current, flexible standards or more stringent requirements.
About one year ago, the Department of Environmental Quality ruled that developers were bound by more lenient guidelines. Thereafter, Perquimans County citizens GiGi Badawi and Steve Owens (husband and wife team) sued alleging that the DEQ had erred in its ruling.
Since then, the North Carolina Attorney General filed a motion to dismiss alleging that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue, meaning that they had suffered no damages. The hearing on that issue was held a few months ago and the presiding judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, which has led us to where we are now.
In this case, scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, April 13, attorneys for each side will submit oral arguments, but no testimony will be provided by witnesses. At some point, Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter of the Office of Administrative Hearings will rule on the merits – either killing the plaintiffs’ case or allowing it to go forward to a full trial presumably in the near future.
Given the fact that there is so much political interest in this matter at the state level, the attorneys for the plaintiffs are guarded in what they think will be the ultimate outcome. The plaintiffs are represented by the Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom. They allege that the letter from DEQ, dated April 29, violated North Carolina law and substantially prejudiced the plaintiffs’ rights by depriving them of legislative protections of which they were an intended beneficiary.
The state agency, DEQ, argues that the Desert Wind Project is grandfathered under North Carolina law.
Weyerhaeuser Company and Pasquotank County have both retained private legal counsel to intervene in the lawsuit. Weyerhaeuser has been granted the right to fully participate in the lawsuit, while Pasquotank County’s role is limited to one of briefing the court on issues of law.
To suggest that these plaintiffs are engaged in a ‘David versus Goliath’ struggle would be an understatement. Support for the defendants ranges from the Governor’s office all the way down to the County Commissioners. So, to suggest that it is a surprise that the plaintiffs have gotten this far, with the intense political scrutiny this has received, is nothing short of a miracle!
What has been realized by the citizens of this area, particularly those in Perquimans County, is that the County Commissioners have more interest in the tax revenue that will be derived from this project, than any interest in protecting the citizens that they are elected to represent.
Perquimans County citizen Alan Lennon stated that he was unaware that the commissioners in his county, were not representing the interest of the taxpayers, until one day he realized what was going on and he organized a group of taxpaying citizens to petition the County Commissioners at various meetings that were scheduled to discuss this matter.
Nevertheless, despite overwhelmingly large crowds at various meetings of the Perquimans County Commission where most argued against wind energy and making numerous points about the damage to the community and the financial interest of the taxpayers, the County Commissioners ignored the citizens’ interest and voted to accept the proposed wind energy development in Perquimans County.
The only Commissioner who voted against the project was Matthew Peeler.
And, late last year, Lennon filed to run for election to the Perquimans Board of County Commissioners.
It is interesting to note that the wind energy developer, Iberdrola Renewables, has begun construction of the Desert Wind project with the full knowledge that this legal proceeding was in progress. Undoubtedly, their strategy is to argue that they had to move forward with the project, therefore a change in procedure would be a financial impediment to the project, with increased costs.
Also, earlier this year, the company persuaded Pasquotank Commissioners to issue a letter of support for the project, thus suggesting that the community as a whole endorsed the project. This was the basis of the Pasquotank Commissioners decision to enter the case as a co-defendant, subjecting the citizens of Pasquotank County to legal costs.