Peeler only elected official to side with rank-and-file citizens

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County Commissioner stands ground in 6 – 1 wind energy vote

From left: Frank Heath (County Manager), and County Commissioners Wallace Nelson, Kyle Jones (Vice Chairman), Janice Cole (Chair), Edward Muzzulin, Matt Peeler, and Fondella Leigh

From left: Frank Heath (County Manager), and County Commissioners Wallace Nelson, Kyle Jones (Vice Chairman), Janice Cole (Chair), Edward Muzzulin, Matt Peeler, and Fondella Leigh

PERQUIMANS COUNTY — It seems logical that the Perquimans County Commissioners would pay attention, and provide consideration to any of the following:

  • Public hearings where large numbers of citizens would invest their valuable time to come and let the Commissioners know about matters of concern;
  • Verbal presentations by the public as to how they might be impacted negatively;
  • That the Commissioners would want to know as much as possible about a controversy over matters affecting the citizens that elected them;
  • That the Commissioners would take heed and want to check out claims by an opposition attorney, claiming potential conflict of interest between a developer and members of the Planning Board;
  • That the Commissioners would seriously consider the implications of over 900 signatures of County residents, on a petition that was before the Board for consideration.

But of course, this would mean that the Commissioners were actually looking out for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens that they were elected to represent. So you would be wrong about the Perquimans County Board of Commissioners. In point of fact, the current Board completely ignored every one of these considerations when they voted 6-1 in favor of Apex Clean Energy who wants to build a Wind Farm in the County.

The meeting on Monday night was the culmination of several meetings in which the Commissioners received numerous verbal presentations from citizens of the County who showed up in huge numbers. As we have reported previously, the same was true of a few Pro Wind speakers. But in the end, there was only one Commissioner that spoke up for the citizens. That Commissioner was Matt Peeler.

During the course of the evening, the Planning Director spoke and made a final presentation.

Commissioner Peeler brought up numerous issues and offered a number of motions for consideration, all of which died for the lack of a second.

Among those motions was to increase the setback requirements from nonparticipating property lines; issues of shadow flicker; concerns about the noise that wind turbines would make and several other matters that would at least mitigate the concerns of adjoining property owners. In that regard, the setback question was an attempt to limit the negative effects based upon the assertion, of one citizen, who found out that one of the wind turbines was scheduled to be constructed within 1250 feet of his home. Another issue was the decommissioning of a windmill that ceases to function for any reason, and who is going to be responsible for that cost. Concerns about shadow flicker flashing through the windows of adjacent residences, when the rotating blades pass through the sunlight creating a momentary shadow could have a negative affect on people within those homes. But like the other issues, the commissioners ignored all of these concerns in voting on behalf of the wind energy developers.

When the vote had been concluded, Commissioner Peeler spoke up to clarify his point of view, whereupon Commissioner Jones told him that the matter had been decided and that it was time to “move on”.

After the vote was taken, the Board Chair, Janice Cole, opened up the floor for public comment, whereupon the entire board got an earful from many of the citizens in attendance. These people were polite and respectful, for the most part, and even those who spoke more forcefully, left nothing to the imagination as to how they felt about what had just transpired. At a previous meeting, a gentleman that had retired from his career in the U.S. Navy had come to Hertford, with his wife, to enjoy the peaceful countryside. He commented about the beautiful sunsets. He stated at that time that had he known about the prospects for Wind Energy in Perquimans County, he would never have moved here and felt that his Commissioners had betrayed him since then. This man was sitting in the front section of the meeting room and when the proceedings concluded, he shook his head and left without uttering a word.

The general sentiment of the citizens was that they were more informed about the pros and cons of wind energy than any of the commissioners who had to vote on this subject. In that regard, in February 2015, a Wind Energy forum was conducted in Pasquotank County, and all of the commissioners were invited from Pasquotank and Perquimans. There were no attendees from Pasquotank County and only two attendees from Perquimans; Ed Muzlin and Matt Peeler. Even then, Commissioner Muzlin left without hearing the entire presentation. There was another such forum in the town of Bethel, at a church, which is within Perquimans County. A number of citizens from both Chowan and Perquimans Counties attended, but just like the last time, no commissioners bothered to come and learn something about this very complex subject.

At the conclusion of the meeting on Monday night, GiGiBadawi, who lives in the Bear Swamp area stepped to the podium, after the vote was taken, and provided verbal testimony pertaining to applicable portions of the State Law Article 33C Chapter 143. In so doing, onlookers described the reaction of the County Attorney as one of surprise and concern. In addition, Ms. Badawi read aloud a letter that had been written by her attorney that had been addressed to Janice Cole, Board Chair person wherein it was made public that the Planning Board had never maintained minutes of meetings can be as they are required to do by law. That law states, without equivocation that decisions made by any Board or Commission that are not supported by minutes of the meeting, are can be nullified and voided. The attorney, speaking on behalf of his clients, questions how the Board of Commissioners can make a decision, based upon recommendations of the Planning Board, with no meeting minutes to refer to. Finally, while not offering legal advice, pro or con, he states that it is not his place to advise as to whether any particular member of the Planning Board does or does not have a conflict of interest as a matter of law. However, he strongly urges that the Board of Commissioners seek advice from their County Attorney in this matter and consider, both legally and ethically, the proper weight that should be given to the recommendations of the Planning Board members who may have a personal stake in the decision of the Commissioners. The implications are that the Commissioners can be sued, personally as well as collectively.

Clearly, the vote and decision of the Board of Commissioners does not provide a resolution of the dispute in this matter. There are two lawsuits that are pending where a citizen of Perquimans and a citizen from Pasquotank are suing DEQ formerly known as DENR. In both cases, it is asserted that DEQ erred in their decision which gave rise to the ability of Iberdrola Renewables relative to the Pasquotank and Perquimans project and Apex Clean Energy with respect to the Perquimans project, to move forward. In that regard, representatives of Iberdrola attended a Pasquotank Finance Committee meeting wherein they made a request of the Commissioners to sign a Letter of Support for the project. It was clear that they are concerned about these pending lawsuits now that the court has ruled favorably that the Perquimans lawsuit can go forward and is expected to rule in a similar fashion in the Pasquotank case. The developer appears to believe that support from the community will sway the judge in their favor. What was interesting to note, was that the vote to have this discussion in closed session seem to be both out of line and of questionable legal value. This reporter had contacted Mike Cox the Pasquotank County Attorney asking about whether these discussions would be held in open session, and we were assured that they would. Surprisingly, we later learned that the suggestion to discuss this matter in closed session was made as a result of a motion by the County Attorney on the basis that this was a matter that should be protected by attorney client privilege. This matter and the applicability of the of the privilege question, will be decided upon in the future and reported by this paper.



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