From our friends at Brightside Acres:
Saturday January 30, 2010
On January 25, Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) Hearing Examiner Alexander Skirpan issued a ten-page report concluding with the recommendation that the Commission deny the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) complaint against Highland New Wind Development (HNWD) originally filed on August 19, 2009, and dismiss the case from the Commission’s docket.
Read the Report:
Although the Hearing Examiner’s recommendation doesn’t come as a surprise, it is shocking nonetheless.
One cannot help but think that if the evidentiary hearing originally scheduled for September 23, 2009, had been allowed to go forward, the outcome might be different.
Back then, public interest and outcry were at their height, and many members of the national historic preservation community and the press planned to attend the hearing. The People were poised to take a stand to defend a National Historic site against a wind utility in a legal proceeding.
Step by step, that opportunity was withdrawn and then absolutely denied on January 25.
Over four months of legal maneuverings by both sides, everything changed.
Everything, that is, except the factual impact of 19, 400-foot wind turbines on Camp Allegheny Battlefield.
Substantiating data about that impact poured-in to the DHR and the SCC, not just from the local community, not just from nationally-recognized historians and archaeologists, but also from the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service.
Yet, somehow over these past four months, the rationale for avoiding a public hearing, wherein such data would be presented to the public and the press, outweighed the value and meaning of the data itself.
And not just for HNWD (whose desire to avoid public exposure of their desecration of a National Register site any red-blooded libertarian capitalist can surely understand), but also for DHR.
And there’s the rub.
In this entire process, DHR has been unaccountably interested in making things more convenient for HNWD.
Don’t take it from Brightside (although the whole sad tale is recorded in these pages)–just read the brief chronology in the Hearing Examiner’s Report (linked above).
DHR repeatedly went out of it’s way to extend a benefit of the doubt not justified by any prior evidence in the long-standing record of behavior by HNWD.
Three times when DHR could have simply let a public hearing go forward, the agency acted to stop such a proceeding. The basis of these actions has been their oft-stated belief that HNWD was all of a sudden “cooperating,” rendering a hearing “unnecessary.”
Brightside begs to differ.
Until proof is in hand that historic, cultural or environmental resources are not being destroyed by a development of any type, hearings ARE necessary. And should be warmly welcomed by an agency such as DHR, charged with safeguarding the public’s past–and future. It’s not DHR’s job to be credulous in the face of industry, but to be critical of it. And to present their criticisms and reservations in the public sphere.
If, in fact, DHR is operating under some other pressure, wherein the avoidance of hearings is valued ahead of the honest-to-god protection of resources…then, Richmond, we have a problem.
Indeed, Brightside thinks we do.
Rumor has it that HNWD attorneys are up in arms, chomping at the bit to force a political replacement of the DHR Director for all the difficulty her very mere, and ultimately inconsequential adherence to her Agency’s mission statement has caused them.
Their position: Her obstructionist stance must be quashed.
Just imagine, if the current Director of DHR is effectively labeled and replaced with someone even more industry-supportive, to whom shall The People turn?
The reason state agencies such as DHR or DCR or DEQ or DEP exist is to provide a societal safety, a bottom-line insurance that the capitalist endeavors of state can’t get so out of line that The People’s basic resources are compromised.
When these agencies fail us, we’re in trouble.
When these agencies fail to understand why they exist, we’re in deeper trouble.