From Bluefield Daily Telegraph Managing Editor, Samantha Perry:
Published: January 22, 2010 06:04 pm
By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The photograph hanging in a place of honor above my desk is symbolic of Bluefield and the two Virginias. It is Mel Grubb’s famous “fog photo,” the one that shows the mist rolling in over East River Mountain toward the twin cities. Some have a different name for the picture, simply calling it as they see it: “The Phenomenon.”
For those unfamiliar with the region’s geography, it looks like a picture of a waterfall overtaking a small city.
But we know better. It’s simply nature running its course.
And on the day this photo was taken, the fog is rolling across the mountain and into the two Bluefields in a spectacular display of beauty and grandeur.
I’ve looked at this photograph quite a bit during the past year as the debate to place wind turbines atop East River Mountain has resulted in unwavering strong opinions from many residents, bitter feelings among others and, ultimately, a divided community — not just in Tazewell County, but across the state line in Mercer as well.
The brouhaha actually began in late 2008 when it was learned that Dominion and BP Wind Energy had acquired more than 2,500 acres along the East River Mountain ridgeline to place large wind turbines. Immediately, many local people were not happy. Some were outraged at the thought of “destroying” the natural beauty of the mountain by peppering it with giant, metal windmills. Others disagreed, believing the plan could bring much needed development and jobs to the region.
In the months that followed, pros and cons of the windmills were written about in countless stories and letters to the editor in this paper. The Tazewell Board of Supervisors also began studying the issue, along with a proposed ridgeline protection ordinance. Basically, if adopted, the ordinance would prohibit structures more than 40 feet tall on protected ridgelines, and ultimately halt the BP and Dominion project.
Although the board has procrastinated on public hearings and voting on the ordinance for more than a year, the public finally had a chance to speak out earlier this month, and board members have assured the public they will attempt to vote on the ordinance Feb. 2.
As someone born and raised in Mercer County, I admit I feel a certain kinship with East River Mountain — and I think many others do as well. Although we may not own land on the mountain, as lifelong residents of the region we do feel an “ownership,” of sorts.
East River Mountain is iconic. A landmark. It’s the Natural Wonder of our part of the world. Allowing large-scale development on the mountain — and in my book, 400-foot structures qualify as “large-scale” — would forever change the local landscape.
Do the benefits of the windmills outweigh the negatives?
Dominion and BP have reported the project would bring $600,000 in tax revenue into the county in its first year, and $10 million in tax revenue over 20 years. No doubt, that’s a lot of money. But other reports note a significant decrease in property values for homes with a viewshed of the turbines.
Jobs, of course, are another big issue. Although hundreds will be employed during the construction phase of the project, there’s no doubt many, if not most, of those workers will be brought in from other areas. A report on the project indicated there will be no more than 15 people employed long term.
With employment numbers that low, wouldn’t we generate more jobs by simply opening a Taco Bell? (And I guarantee a Taco Bell in the Bluefield, Va., area would bring excitement instead of anger from most residents.)
After being immersed in the windmill debate via our newspaper for more than a year — and openly looking at the issue from both sides — I personally do not support the project. But it’s not my call to make — it is a decision that should be decided by the residents of Tazewell County.
At the public hearing on the project, 71 individuals spoke in favor of the ridgeline ordinance, while 18 spoke against it. That’s an overwhelming anti-windmill majority.
Here at the newspaper, we have received an abundance of letters to the editor about the issue. Although I haven’t kept a specific count, the vast majority were also against the turbine project.
So now the question is whether or not members of the Tazewell Board of Supervisors will listen to their constituents. Those “in the know” about Tazewell County politics are reporting that board member David Anderson, who represents the Bluefield area, is anti-windmill, while board chairman Seth White appears to be tilting in favor of windmills — at least based on some of his recent comments. Some believe new board member Jim Campbell Jr. will vote along with Anderson, while John Absher, the other new board member, may side with White. Of course this is pure speculation — no one knows how these board members will ultimately vote.
However if this scenario does play out, there would be one vote left — Mike Hymes, who represents the Southern District of Tazewell. It’s interesting to think that, potentially, one person could hold the power to forever change the vista of one of the region’s most beloved landscapes.
Again, these possible yea or nay votes are nothing more than conjecture. But, nevertheless, each board member should think long and hard about his vote, and the long-term consequences.
Their actions on Feb. 2 will have a lasting impact on this region, the thousands who live here and the countless others who enjoy the view when they travel through Southwest Virginia. And that’s not a decision that should be taken lightly.
Samantha Perry is managing editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reader Tammy Sheets commented with this letter to the Editor:
Published: January 27, 2010 05:21 pm
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I thank you for your candid and honest article, “Wind turbines: 15 jobs, 5 votes and a forever altered landmark.” I wish the area residents would read Wendy Todd’s account of living next to a wind turbine “farm” at Mars Hill to get her firsthand account of life next to these large monstrosities. Her second paragraph is simple and heart breaking. “The wind turbines have changed our lives forever.” She states that it has destroyed the wildlife, the beautiful views, the property values and forever scarred the mountain. It even disturbed streams, ponds and wetlands. Mars Hill only has 28 turbines. We have 40-60 proposed for East River Mountain. If 28 does this much damage what will we have left with the 40-60 proposed for this area? This is not even to mention the health effects associated with the turbines. Mrs. Todd did not write all of this just to write it. She spelled out the terrible destruction and change that had been done to a beautiful place in America that she wanted to raise her children up in, with the same beautiful country feeling and surroundings that she had grown up in. Her home had been in her family for several generations.
I encourage all residents of Tazewell to do their research on existing wind farms and see the truth. Knowledge is power. The saying, “farm land lost is farm land lost forever,” can aptly be applied here in the form of, “East River Mountain lost is East River Mountain lost forever.”
I hope our supervisors take a page from the recent elections in Massachusetts. The will of the majority must be heard. The majority of the people have spoken and Dominion/BP are not welcome.