When I was a youngster coming home a little later than allowed, I tried to convince my friends not to blow the horn when they dropped me off. I figured that Dad was probably sleeping with one eye open but, having probably pulled the same stunt when he was young, would cut me a little slack. But if Mom woke up all bets were off. Then he would have to confront me or he’d hear about it from her. If I made it past Mom, Dad might nudge me about it in the morning but, no sir, not if Mom got into the act.
That’s why I’m a little surprised at the actions of US WindForce in the matter of the Mineral County West Virginia Comprehensive Plan. Seems WindForce was not happy with some of the language in the plan submitted to the Commissioners by the volunteer planning committee, the members of which have been volunteering their time to work on the submission for years. In a sort of a standing on your own foot moment, the WindForce displeasure with the way the process played out seems a direct result of their own delay in joining it, and now it’s all out there for everybody to see.
It appears from what I read that, for reasons only they would know, WindForce only decided to jump in at the last minute with their recommendations. In fact, at an earlier meeting a week or so ago when this all blew up and the threat of lawsuit was first tossed into the mix, the official Mineral County Planner noted that there were “opportunities all the way along to make comments.” (Mineral County) Commissioner LaRue asked (WindForce Executive) Cookman, “Why would you have waited to make comments until the night they were going to adopt the plan?” The non-answer from Mr. Cookman was, “It was closed without prior notification that it had been closed.” Excellent answer, just not for the question he was asked … why did you wait? (Hey, I tried the Professor Irwin Corey routine on my folks too, way back when. It didn’t work then either.)
Now, I probably would have bought into the whole WindForce naïveté on the matter of constructing community policy thing were it not for the “déjà vu all over again” feeling I got when reading this letter submitted to our neighboring Allegheny County Maryland Commissioners by John Bambacus in 2009 stating, “I will not participate in your “theater of the absurd hearing” today, wherein you again move the goal posts and give special consideration to US Wind Force while virtually ignoring the people you represent.”
Mr. Bambacus further wrote, “After many opportunities in which US Wind Force either sat silent or refused to testify on pending modifications and new provisions to the zoning ordinance that provided basis health, safety, and environmental protections, including one in which people of Allegany County were required to swear under oath that their testimony was indeed true, you once again insult the intelligence of your constituents by giving the wind developer an hour to make again another self-serving and preposterous presentation, while giving individual citizens your usual 3-minute impudent, slap in the face.
There have been numerous public opportunities by the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss this proposal, but US Wind Force has not stepped forward in either an open meeting or a community setting to make their case and have their claims questioned through rebuttal. ”
For your convenience:
Well, I personally witnessed two other instances where leaders of WindForce sat silent while opponents hammered their project. One, a meeting before the very Commission they now threaten with a law suit and the other a seminar at which the presenter literally destroyed the science behind the wind industry. The WindForce officials sat silent even through Q&A period, missing a perfect opportunity to counter the claims. Their reluctance to engage was a turning point for me, at the time being a wind energy advocate. I began to read independent studies beyond the AWEA boilerplate and decided that the wind business is simply a tax shelter rewarding developers and owners yet offering no real benefit to energy consumers or improvement to the environment. Quite the contrary, in fact! But that’s another story.
Now, I don’t know if the actions of WindForce constitute a devious pattern or just an example of “slow out of the chute,” but no matter. What does matter is the possibility that US WindForce, perhaps inadvertently, opened a wide door for its opponents. Yep! It seems to me that, by choosing to not participate in the ongoing planning process and then dumping in late with threats of lawsuits, US WindForce effectively honked its own horn.
To recap what I surmise from reading about the affair: the gentleman who evidently car pools with the WindForce folks to various meetings, (sometimes their attorney but not in this case but interested in the legality of the planning committee proceedings) threatened suit should the “illegal” document not be sent back to the volunteer planning commission. Again, he’s doing this on his own and not as a friend to WindForce, which he represents, but not in this case except that… oh, never mind! Anyway, seems his actions and the force of WindForce’s wind finally convinced two members of the County Commission to vote to send the whole thing back to square one.
The Commissioner in the minority suggested that, rather than scrap the fine work done by the volunteers over many years simply because of the threat of a lawsuit by WindForce and/or “the car pool companion”, the Commission should seek the advice of the WV Attorney General. But the other two Commissioners thought it best to buckle and, as described in a local paper, “punt.”
Well, they didn’t see it as buckling and resented the implication that they were intimidated by the threat of lawsuit. I believe that’s true of one of the place kicking Commissioners as she seems to have consistently supported the project. After all, she submitted an unsolicited letter to the WV PSC requesting the PSC deny an appeal to the granting of the permit to proceed on the nearby Pinnacle wind farm (US WindForce as developer) because, as she said “After reading the Alliance’s petition, I believe that nothing new has been brought to the table.” I found it a little odd that the Commissioner wrote the letter to the PSC on personal letterhead as a private citizen yet used her Commissioner title in the salutation. You see, she already signed a letter of support as County Commissioner on official County letterhead. I think the PSC got the point.
Here for your convenience:
The other un-intimidated Commissioner, after a somewhat heated discussion in the earlier meeting in which the possibility of a law suit was raised was quoted as saying, “Can we accept this plan?” “I don’t want to go to court.” (Intimidation? Maybe not! Frustration? Exhaustion? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my little déjà vu thing again.
It seems to me there are two issues here. One issue being the legality of the process, and the other the “as the credits roll” submission of comments to the planning committee document by US WindForce.
I have a bad habit of oversimplifying issues but, to me, the legal issue seems cut and dry. Once the “illegality” of the process was identified and not corrected, the gentleman threatening suit would move immediately on his threat of legal action to correct the core problem and not entangle, as this whole dust-up seems to have done, the wishes of WindForce into the debate. Either the process was illegal and required remedy, or it wasn’t. The legal beagles would sort that out. I certainly don’t see continued threats as a solution to any problem. But then, I’m not a lawyer. I suspect where we are now however, the planning committee process status will require some kind of review and, if necessary, corrective action before the process can begin again. Shame, isn’t it?
On the matter of the comment submission, it seemed reasonable enough to ask the AG to look this thing over rather than toss it back in the face of the volunteers who worked so hard for so long. Depending on the AG ruling, the decision would have had potential to serve all sides for this issue. Of course, a lot of this would have gone away early on had WindForce spoken in public, along with everyone else, when the process was moving on. Shame, isn’t it?
I suspect wind opponents will step through the door left wide open by WindForce. And, cat being out of bag, should WindForce suggest a “middle ground” to this “illegally” generated document (their suggestion, not mine) to cut off renewed debate opportunities and ram through a modified version of the plan to their benefit, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a challenge from the other side. After all, that “It was closed without prior notification that it had been closed” cuts both ways, doesn’t it?
Anyway, there will hopefully be following articles in the press to deal with developments and hope you will pay close attention to the information which flows in the next several weeks from both sides. We’ll try to point out items of interest as they show up.
But this musing is more about my surprise at the apparent wish of WindForce to open the whole topic of wind development in the county to further scrutiny and discussion, especially at a time when the tide is turning against wind industry and growing numbers of citizen/environmental groups are educating the public to the facts of industrial wind. Talk about setting yourself up for a Pyrrhic Victory.
And finally … as I learned a long time ago, when your trying to sneak in late, it’s best if you don’t blow the horn.
Sources for this post include the Cumberland Maryland Times-News, the Mineral County West Virginia Daily News-Tribune and the archives of the Allegheny Treasures blog.
We make every effort to be accurate. Should you find inaccuracies, broken links or omissions please contact me through the comment section.
Comments are always welcome.