Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


January 25, 2013

County rights — Saslaw’s bill must be rejected

Here we go again. Another year, another attempt by a Northern Virginia lawmaker to pass a state law that would, in essence, trump Tazewell County’s two-year-old ridgeline protection ordinance. The latest legislative effort has been launched by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Springfield, who has introduced a measure in the General Assembly that seeks to exempt electric utilities from local zoning and land use requirements.

The proposed bill “exempts certain electrical generation facilities powered by renewable sources of energy from local zoning and land use requirements. The exemption applies to a facility that is owned by an electric utility, has a capacity of at least four megawatts, is on a parcel of at least 25 acres, and has received all required approvals and permits from the State Corporation Commission and environmental regulators.”

Leaders in Tazewell County say the bill in question appears crafted to trump the county’s ridgeline protection ordinance.

“It’s a rather sad fact that the ordinance we passed in Bluefield, Va., can be undone by something passed in the Virginia General Assembly,” Bluefield, Va. Mayor Don Harris said Wednesday. “We here in Bluefield, Va., are asked to operate under rules that are passed by the Virginia General Assembly. We do that and low and behold, they consider undoing their own regulations that we operate under.”

Dominion and BP jointly purchased a 2,600-acre tract of land on East River Mountain in 2008 with a vision of developing a large-scale wind turbine farm near Bluefield, Va. BP later withdrew from the project with Dominion acquiring full ownership of the land. However, the project was stalled in early 2010 after a ridgeline protection ordinance, also referred to as the tall structure ordinance, was adopted by the county Board of Supervisors.

Last year, a bill was introduced by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, which also would have allowed the state to trump the county ordinance. It was ultimately rejected. Lawmakers — including Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, II, R-Tazewell, and Delegate Anne B. Crockett-Stark, R-Wythe — must now act quickly to kill Saslaw’s measure.

An appellate board was established in 2010 by the county supervisors to hear challenges to the tall structure ordinance. However, to date, no one has appeared before the board. The appellate board is the correct procedure for any individual or business seeking an exemption from the ridgeline ordinance.

If Saslaw’s bill as currently written passes, and the General Assembly is empowered to tell utilities that the state will automatically exempt them from local zoning and land use requirements, we could indeed see a wind turbine farm on East River Mountain.

However, this isn’t about whether or not a wind turbine farm should be built on East River Mountain. This is about whether the state of Virginia should have the authority to tell local governments what to do. And we don’t think the General Assembly should be telling county governments that it will automatically trump locally approved and citizen supported zoning and land use ordinances. That decision must rest with the locality — and not Richmond.

Saslaw’s bill must be rejected — sooner rather than later.

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