Planning Board under gun to develop wind energy rules
CHOWAN COUNTY – The Chowan County Planning Board met last Thursday, March 12, to receive input from the public with respect to the prospects of developing a wind ordinance for the county. A large number of interested citizens attended, including a small contingent who were ‘pro-wind.’
After all the speakers had a chance to express their views, the meeting was turned over to attorney John Morrison — a paid attorney on behalf of the county — and a partner in the Horthal Riley law firm.
He addressed legal issues as the process moves forward. Morrison stated quite clearly, that he was not offering any opinions about the feasibility of wind turbines, and he certainly was not an expert in this field. Rather, he offered an overview of where the project stands today to its ultimate conclusion, if appropriate, for a building permit to be issued, and construction started.
Morrison said he had recommended to remove any discussion of a proposed moratorium from the agenda. He explained that up to 2006, moratoriums were at the sole discretion of the Board of Commissioners. However, the General Assembly passed a law in 2006, providing for moratoriums under very guarded circumstances. With regard to the permitting process, he suggested there was a misapprehension on the part of citizens about how the process functions, therefore he wanted to take a few minutes to explain what the wind developer will ultimately have to provide in order to obtain a permit from the County.
Morrison stated that simply because there is an ordinance allowing wind farms, the county will not simply issue a permit, with construction beginning shortly thereafter.
Even if the developer complies with all the recommendations and requirements of any wind farm, there is a lengthy process that requires the developer to apply for the permit through the planning department. Where the project is to be built, how it is be built, what the specifications are of the wind turbines, and many other factors — including the health, safety, and welfare of residents – must be considered, in addition to any anticipated loss of value for surrounding real estate.
Once the planning staff reviews the application and verifies that the project complies with the ordinance, the Planning Board will study the application further and then the Planning Board makes a recommendation to the Commissioners. The Planning Board is an advisory body only and are not elected
The Chowan County Commissioners make all final decisions.
Upon receipt of a recommendation from the Planning Board, they can accept it, or reject it, or pick and choose any elements of the proposal. The Commissioners, acting in the context of a Court will ask question as a quasi-judicial judicial body, while soliciting expert testimony about the project, pro or con.
Whether wind energy is popular or not is irrelevant. The Commissioners are required by law to make their decision solely on the basis of the evidence provided, without consideration to any individual predispositions. The burden of proof lies with the applicant to convince the Commissioners that the application in sound and that any project will not adversely affect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the County nor diminish their property values.
Accordingly, the applicant will be required to supply reports from as many as nine governmental agencies, which will be considered by the Technical Review Committee, before the project ever reaches the Commissioners for action.
Morrison explained to attendees that if they want to offer contrary testimony, they will need to have their experts present when the application is reviewed by the Commissioners. He believes this process could take a year or more. Although the Planning Board is attempting to develop a wind ordinance, no one has filed for any Conditional Use Permit — therefore the process has not even begun. In closing, he emphasized there are rules and procedures in place, designed to give everyone their say and that it is likely that this process will take years before construction can begin.
The Commissioners gave the Planning Board a short timetable to reach a conclusion about the various details of any proposed wind energy ordinance. The Planning Board intends to review the wind energy ordinances. Insiders familiar with the process generally agree that the accelerated pace is much too fast for adequate research and deliberation by the county’s planning officials.