BLUEFIELD, Va. — The fate of a long-planned commercial wind turbine farm for East River Mountain could hinge upon the outcome of a proposed zoning ordinance for the Eastern District of Tazewell County. After months of discussion, the draft zoning ordinance is now up for a public hearing.
A joint public hearing between the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and the Tazewell County Planning Commission will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m. at the board of supervisors meeting room in Tazewell. A large crowd is expected at the public hearing, according to Charles Stacy, the board’s Eastern District member.
If the zoning ordinance as currently proposed is passed by the supervisors, it would be difficult for Virginia Dominion Power to construct the large-scale wind turbine farm on East River Mountain. Stacy said the board has suggested alternative sites to the company for a wind turbine farm where the project wouldn’t face opposition, including an old strip mine site in Jewell Ridge. Stacy said officials also have asked in the past if the company would consider a solar energy project on East River Mountain as opposed to a wind turbine farm.
“My position remains that 85, if not 95 percent of those folks in the Eastern District, do not want to see that commercial wind turbine project go forward on East River Mountain,” Stacy said. “I’ve invited them twice to look at other sites, including one of the old abandoned strip mines that has a lot of infrastructure on it.”
Ryan Frazier, a spokesman for Dominion, said the company evaluated several different ridgetops early into the process.
“When we first started looking at the wind resources in Tazewell County and other areas in the mountains of Virginia, we evaluated all of the different ridgetops, and in Tazewell County the only one that could provide utility scale wind resources was on East River Mountain,” Frazier said. “We are not considering any other sites. We still believe that project to be a viable project.”
Frazier said Dominion also is not considering a solar energy project for East River Mountain at this time. He said the company would have a representative to attend the public hearing on Feb. 16 and speak regarding the project on behalf of Dominion.
The zoning ordinance as currently proposed would restrict certain developments within the Eastern District, including wind turbines and medical waste incinerators. The Eastern District includes all of Bluefield, Va., and the Springville community.
“As part of the process, we had to send a direct mailer to every affected landowner,” Stacy said. “So we had to send letters out to everyone in the Eastern District affected by this ordinance. So that has created a lot of calls and inquiries.”
Stacy said some citizens living in neighboring districts, including farming communities, are opposed to the zoning plan.
“You still have a group of people that are opposed to zoning,” Stacy said. “A large majority of them are coming from out of the district, and they are fearful that this is step-one in a county-wide zoning ordinance.”
However, zoning is only proposed for the Eastern District, and there are no current plans for zoning in other districts of the county, Stacy said.
Stacy said the zoning ordinance is needed to keep wind turbines off of scenic East River Mountain.
“That zoning ordinance I think is the most powerful thing I can do as a board of supervisor (member) to stop this project,” he said. “That is the will of the people here and they don’t want this (wind turbine) project. And the best way to stop that project is through a zoning ordinance.”
No decisions will be made at the Feb. 16 meeting. Stacy said the forum is simply being held for public input.
“We have agreed based upon the comments we had and the discussions we had on the planning commission that there are changes coming to it, and we cannot make those changes until after those hearings,” Stacy said.
Dominion acquired 2,600 acres of land high atop East River Mountain in 2009 for the purpose of building a large-scale commercial wind turbine farm. The company says the project would provide 150 jobs during the three-year construction period and generate an estimated $22 million in tax revenues for Tazewell County over a 25-year time. The project would create about 10 permanent jobs.