Asking “Can visual impacts be mitigated? West Virginia agency accepts grant offer from wind company,” National Wind Watch brings this article concerning Mineral County, WV and the ongoing debate over the merits of the Pinnacle Knob wind project.
Pay very close attention to what is happening here folks. There’s plenty more to come on this issue.
Here’s the full text of the article:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As Virginia wrangles over the visual impact of 400-foot towers on nearby historic properties, a similar situation in West Virginia resulted in a $10,000 grant offer from a wind energy company building 23 wind turbines overlooking some 18 historic places in Mineral County.
Not everyone agrees it’s an appropriate solution, but Pinnacle Wind Force LLC offered to make that amount available for historic preservation efforts after the West Virginia Division of Culture and History (the State Historic Preservation Office) found its wind project would have an adverse impact on historic resources nearby.
Pinnacle plans to build its project along the Allegheny Front in Mineral, near Alleghany and Garrett counties in Maryland. It has applied for a permit from the West Virginia Public Service Commission, and as part of the process, a survey of historic places was conducted and the West Virginia SHPO was consulted. Agency director Susan Pierce, in a March letter to the developer, said her office agreed the project would have a visual adverse effect to 18 places eligible for or listed in the National Register of Historic Places, “as well as a visual adverse effect to the rural landscape and cultural setting within some portions of the area of potential effect.” She noted the proposed Memorandum of Agreement with Pinnacle, adding, “during our meeting on Feb. 26, we discussed several other mitigation possibilities. We have checked our records and at this time do not have any request from the public for a National Register nomination. However, we do suggest that the Mineral County Historical Society be contacted to provide them with an opportunity to comment and inquire if they would like to be a concurring party on the MOA. Also, in our opinion the establishment of a local grant program that was discussed in our meeting could provide the best long term mitigation.”
The Mineral County Historical Society and Historical Foundation were consulted about the arrangement, but some members objected to the project’s impacts, and the groups declined to get involved with the agreement.
The MOA states that before construction starts within the viewshed of the historic properties, Pinnacle will set aside $10,000 for a grant fund administered by an independent, local community foundation to be established by Pinnacle. Funding decisions will be made independent of Pinnacle “and will be for the express purpose of assisting in the preservation, rehabilitation, or restoration of historic properties” in Mineral County. The grant is dedicated for 10 years, or until all the money is spent.
Pierce signed the agreement Saturday, Oct. 24 and a Pinnacle representative signed it Monday, Oct. 26.
This week, Pierce explained such arrangements have been reached with companies before, but this might be the first one made with a wind energy company.
A member of the Allegheny Front Alliance, however, believes Pierce “sold out” Mineral’s history. Frank O’Hara of Keyser said the Alliance first learned about the MOA when it came up during evidentiary hearings before the PSC. The Alliance is an intervenor in the case. “It certainly means our state is open for business,” he said, stressing the agreement doesn’t do anything to change the impact to the 18 properties considered historic.
Pierce explained Pinnacle went through the review process first, identifying historic resources. In an August meeting, Pierce and the developer discussed potential mitigation, and the company had come with the proposal for the grant, she said. Pinnacle had already agreed to establish a foundation for the community. The $10,000 amount would be set aside within that foundation account, Pierce explained. The local historic organizations attending the meeting expressed concerns about the impacts to the historic places, she said.
“There was some discussion about the appropriate amount,” she added, but since Pinnacle had already set aside more funding in its foundation, her agency agreed to the amount offered.
O’Hara said the foundation has not been established yet; Pinnacle offered to provide $50,000 to the foundation the first year, and about $20,000 annually thereafter, he said. “But it’s not set up. It’s just words, so far. And Susan Pierce just said, ‘This looks like a good deal. We get Mineral to deal with it … and we let it go for $10,000,’” he said. “Did Susan Pierce discuss this with the landowners (affected)? Why hasn’t Maryland been contacted?”
O’Hara was concerned the SHPO did not examine impacts to Maryland’s viewshed. “The rights of Maryland were not considered,” he said. “Our state is willing to give away their resources, too.”
Pierce says her agency can’t consider anything outside West Virginia. “My recollection is that the project was reduced. They (Pinnacle) eliminated some turbines to lessen the impact. But it’s the company’s responsibility to work with the other counties. I can only mitigate resources in West Virginia.”
O’Hara said it’s ironic the agency has expressed concern about Camp Allegheny’s impact from the Highland New Wind Development project in Virginia and yet is willing to mitigate Mineral County property for $10,000. “My feeling is: Susan Pierce is willing to give away Mineral County,” he said. “You can’t mitigate these impacts. There will still be a direct impact.”
The problem with wind energy facilities in West Virginia, he said, is that the PSC doesn’t have the expertise to review them. In the case of historic properties, developers do some analyses, “then they’re incomplete, and all it does is hold them up for about 300 days and then they move forward,” he said.
“Susan is not a favorite among historical societies here,” he added. “They don’t care for her, and say she is hard to get along with. She’s reluctant to rock the boat on this and she’s a very difficult person to work around.”
He says the area in Mineral and the town of Keyser has far more income potential in tourism and other business than what it could gain from Pinnacle’s utility. “Some of these properties are very, very unique; some have the ability to go on the National Register. People could stop here, spend 2-3 hours seeing this area, and the tourism would be a big economic advantage for the town.” But the amount Pinnacle offers in grant money is equal to about $4 per person. “You might as well go to McDonald’s and spend that on a value meal,” he said.
As to whether a similar arrangement is possible for Highland New Wind Development to mitigate its impact on Camp Allegheny, officials would not speculate. “We’re not there yet,” Pierce said. “I think each situation comes with its own parameters, (and) that particular project has its own parameters. We’re in the whole process of trying to minimize effects first … after the review process, then you can consider alternatives — can you avoid it, then, can you mitigate it.”
Pierce said her agency first considers whether a project’s impact can be reduced, or altered in some way to minimize its effects. If the project is found to be in the best possible location for its purpose, then the agency can consider alternatives for mitigation.
Considering whether such an agreement might be suitable for Camp Allegheny is hypothetical at this point, she said.
Virginia agrees. The HNWD project is being reviewed by Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources; director Kathleen Kilpatrick say she could not speak specifically about the utility with regard to mitigation, nor consider hypothetical situations. “As a general proposition, though, the example you cite is among the many well-used strategies to address adverse effects to cultural resources,” she told The Recorder. “In addition to looking at various strategies that are appropriate to a specific situation, however, one also has to think in terms of how much mitigation is warranted by the case. An important concept in this regard is proportionality — a given project’s size, for example, and its impact on a resource, along with the relative significance of that resource.”
Kilpatrick says to her recollection, DHR has “never used that approach alone as the single strategy to address impacts, but as one element in a broader package of mitigation efforts that might also include things like publications, educational materials, documentation of resources, etc.
“Also, I cannot remember an example of leaving the question so open-ended — instead, money has been set aside for agreed upon and defined projects,” she said.
5 November 2009