Scrutiny of wind farm urged

Staff writer

It’s not uncommon for citizens to attend Marion County Planning and Zoning Commission meetings to voice concerns regarding proposed zoning issues.

What is uncommon is when Bob Gayle of Florence showed up at the April committee meeting with a 21-page, single-spaced briefing book with 59 pages of supplemental materials to articulate his concerns about the proposed wind farm under development by Windborne Energy LLC.

“Sometimes we’ll get several letters or e-mails prior to the meeting,” county planning and zoning director Tonya Roberts said. “Sometimes people will show up and speak with no documentation, and some will show up with documentation of what they’re talking about.”

Gayle said he started taking a hard look at the project after hearing a presentation by developer Rex Savage at a Florence City Council meeting.

“There’s a lot of loose ends here, a lot of questions to be answered,” Gayle said.

Using technical knowledge Gayle said he gleaned by studying wind power intensely for the past 15 years, he estimated he spent 50 hours researching and developing the brief. His concerns are wide-ranging, including claims of miscommunication by Savage; the financial and technical viability of Sunwind Energy Group LLLP, the company negotiating to take over the project; property tax concerns; and technical issues related to noise, power output, microclimates, and decommissioning.

One source he didn’t consult was Savage. The two men have known each other since they were in kindergarten together.

“He could not come to me because it would ruin his argument,” Savage said. “Bob is a bright person. I’m disappointed that if he really wanted answers he didn’t ask me for them.”

Savage contended Gayle could have found the answers to most of his questions by talking with him, or by reviewing all of the project applications and documents on file with the county.

“I don’t believe anything substantive could be learned by me calling Rex,” Gayle said. “Rex isn’t the guy who’s going to build this thing; it’s going to be some big corporation.”

When Gayle made his presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission in April, the response was subdued.

“Mr. Gayle did stand up and speak at the meeting, but he didn’t have much time,” Richards said. “The response of the members was that the issues had been addressed over the past four years, so he didn’t have the opportunity to say much.”

County commission

Undaunted by the response and convinced of his arguments, Gayle decided to take his concerns to a May county commission meeting where the Planning and Zoning Commission recommendations would be considered. Again, his research was dismissed.

“I was told, ‘It’s not our job to vet these companies, it’s our job to make sure the project meets the zoning requirements, and that’s it,’” Gayle said.

Gayle said some landowners he’s talked to have the perception that county commission approval means they have analyzed and approved the entire business proposal. Gayle wants to correct that.

“I want to make sure that the people in the county understand that the county is not advocating for them, they’re just insuring that the project meets zoning requirements. If we get that out there, then at least people can make informed decisions,” Gayle said. “Maybe some people will do some checking on their own.

“I’m not an anti-wind power guy. I’m a realist, and I know not every project is a good project,” Gayle said.

Savage said he’s learned a lot during the 11 years he’s been working on bringing a wind farm to Marion County, and that the project is on target as negotiations proceed with Sunwind.

“I can’t guarantee Sunwind will build a wind farm here. I can assure it’s their intent, but I can’t guarantee that because I don’t control that,” Savage said. “All indicators are positive, everything is on track, we’re working down the list to get this done.”

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