PASQUOTANK COUNTY – Monday night, in a 5 to 2 vote, the Pasquotank County Commission took the unusual step of joining a state agency as a co-defendant in a controversial lawsuit.
According to insiders, the decision came after Iberdrola Renewables met with county officials in a session off-limits to the general public. These same sources confirm that a majority of the board ignored the recommendations of County Attorney Mike Cox, and County Manager Rodney Bunch, that Pasquotank County should remain neutral.
A private citizen is suing the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources over a ruling by the agency, which gave a green light to a large wind energy project known as ‘Amazon Wind’ – to be located on the border between Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties.
Court filings, legal briefs, and other costly motions now loom for Pasquotank County, likely requiring outside counsel, with the inevitable attorney’s fees and expenses.
On the other hand, the state Attorney General handles all legal work when a state agency is sued.
There is no out-of-pocket cost for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In the closed session, several county commissioners questioned who was going to pay the county’s legal expenses. Iberdrola declined, but suggested that something “would be worked out.”
Commissioners Frankie Meads and Lloyd Griffin argued that Pasquotank County should follow the lead of Perquimans County who agreed to stay neutral in this matter.
The matter being litigated in the Pasquotank County case is one of standing, meaning that the Attorney General claims the plaintiff lacks any damages and therefore lacks the standing to file suit.
The same case was litigated in Perquimans County in recent months and the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and against DENR. The attorneys representing the plaintiff in the Pasquotank case are the same. Therefore, there is reason to expect that the plaintiff’s case will be upheld.
These behind-the-scenes maneuvers by Iberdrola, which have successfully prompted Pasquotank to join the state agency as a co-defendant, are tacit admission that the wind energy developer is worried.
Iberdrola has pursued the project — despite the lawsuit. An adverse decision by the court might put these efforts, and large costs, in jeopardy. Clearly, the pending hearing, which is scheduled for the week of Feb 29 in Raleigh, will be an important step forward in the anti-wind efforts in this area.
A citizen in Perquimans County, named GiGi Badawi sued and won her case that she had standing to sue, so it seems clear that Iberdrola wants to present evidence that the Pasquotank County Commissioners favor the project as a means of influencing the court.
Pasquotank County seems to think that its support will help the judge rule in favor of the state agency, which in turn benefits the wind energy developer.
Editor’s note: John Woodard, reporter for Nor’eastern News, is the plaintiff in the Pasquotank litigation described in this article.