Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 5, 2014

Proposed wind turbine farm remains viable long-term project

TAZEWELL, Va. — Although construction is currently being blocked by a county ridgeline ordinance, a proposed wind turbine farm for East River Mountain remains a viable long-term project, an official with Dominion Virginia Power told the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

“The county has passed the ridgeline ordinance that is currently blocking the project at this time,” Emmett Toms, a local government affairs manager for Dominion, said. “There is no construction timeline on the project at this time.”

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 farm near Bluefield, Va. BP later withdrew from the project with Dominion acquiring full ownership of the land in 2009.

However, the project was stalled in early 2010 after a ridgeline protection ordinance was adopted by the supervisors on a 3-2 vote. The ordinance basically prohibits the construction of tall structures on certain protected ridgelines, including East River Mountain.

Toms said the wind turbine project has the potential to create 150 construction jobs and 10 to 15 full-time jobs while adding $10 million in new tax revenue into Tazewell County each year as well as another $10 million in revenue from local products and services.

However, Charlie Stacy, the board’s Eastern District representative, said several proposed economic development and residential construction projects at the new Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park are being negatively impacted by the threat of wind turbines along the adjacent mountainous ridgeline.

“The aesthetics of that mountain is critical to a lot of economic development,” Stacy said. Stacy pressed Toms for a timeline on when Dominion would either act or decide to abandon the wind turbine farm. Toms said he didn’t have a timeline for the project — adding that current options with property owners extend 10 years.

“We are a responsible corporate citizen,” Toms said. “We would come back to the board on anything we want to do going forward.”

Stacy said other developers are interested in the East River Mountain property, and asked Toms if he could put them in contact with Dominion to see if the company would be interested in selling the 2,600 acres of land. Toms said the company would always be open to future discussions with the board.

The board requested an update from Dominion on the project in light of recent interest from other developers who apparently would like to acquire the 2,600 acres of land currently owned by Dominion.

“I have specifically spoken with one developer — and I don’t have his permission to disclose his idea — but I know the developer has expressed an interest,” Stacy said told the Daily Telegraph last week.

However, Stacy said nothing can happen on East River Mountain while Dominion still owns the property.

Stacy said during the earlier interview that he intends to introduce an ordinance later this year that would establish zoning for the Eastern District of Tazewell County.

“It is not a zoning ordinance for all of Tazewell County, but we have an option to zone by district,” Stacy added in the earlier interview. “I have asked to do that as a further means of protecting against this project.”

Dominion has yet to request an appeal or appearance before the appellate board that was established by the county to hear challenges to the tall structure ordinance.

In other action Tuesday, the board honored first responders from across the county who responded to a New Year’s Eve fire on Main Street Tazewell last year. The recognition program included a dinner for all fire, police, rescue and other EMS personnel who responded to the downtown blaze.

“We could have lost an entire block if it had not been for these firefighters,” Southern District board member Mike Hymes said.

In other action, the board agreed to enter into a contract with the Department of Public Health Practice and Research at Virginia Tech for a cancer study not to exceed a cost of $75,000. The study was requested by the supervisors last year in response to high rates of cancer in parts of the county, including the Southern District.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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