Windfarm critics, supporters lock horns
Possible law regarding Appalachian Trail could halt project
  

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   An overflow crowd turned out Tuesday night at Johnson County Courthouse to comment on a windfarm and energy storage facility proposed for Stone Mountain in Mountain City by Tennessee Valley Authority.
   According to TVA spokesmen, the windfarm would include 13 to 16 wind turbines approximately 800 to 1,000 feet apart. The agency first was looking at two sites on Stone Mountain: one near Bogg Gap and the other near Locust Road. TVA says it now has narrowed its focus to Bogg Gap on the north end.
   The turbines, which would tower approximately 250 feet above the ridgeline, are designed to generate in winds from 7 to 55 mph. Rotor blades, ranging from 203 to 230 feet in diameter, would spin at a speed of approximately 139 mph to 165 mph.
   According to TVA the windfarm comes with an optional Regenesys energy storage facility at one of three possible locations: the Johnson County Industrial Park, Shoun's Substation, and the back side of Mountain City Industrial Park.
   According to the environmental assessment, TVA is looking at three options: build the windfarm/storage facility at Buffalo Mountain, site of a former strip mine in Anderson County; build the facilities at Stone Mountain; or "no action," in other words, "don't build."
   Not everyone who attended the Tuesday night meeting could fit inside the courtroom, spilling over into the foyer and hallway. Though the meeting officially ended at 8:30, TVA said they would stay until the last person who wanted to comment was heard.
   And did they get an earful.
   Had the crowd been juveniles, some might have been deemed unruly in a court of law. TVA's moderator had to step in numerous times to remind some folks not to be nasty.
   Two prominent citizens, Paul Brown and Danny Herman, own most of the top of the mountain and, according to opponents, stand to profit most by leasing their land to TVA. Both men spoke in favor of the windfarm.
   Brown told the crowd he owns 2,600 acres. "If anybody wants to buy his property to keep them from coming in, I'll be glad to sell it to them."
   Herman, who operates a major trucking firm, told the group, "What Paul doesn't own on top of that mountain, I own."
   "Gee, really," one woman in the audience said sarcastically.
   After an exchange of words, the woman told him: "Pick me up, Danny, and throw me out. I'd love to see you."
   After the heckling subsided Herman told the group: "I didn't come to the TVA looking to sell land or lease land ... they came to me. They wanted to check wind velocity, which they did."
   Herman said he has videos of Palm Springs, Calif., which built a windfarm.
   "They just built their ninth hotel there right now because tourists come to see the windmills from all over the world." A portion of the crowd rejected this notion with a groan, as though they had just heard a bad joke. Another portion clapped and cheered.
   Few project proposals have ever been stopped by emotions. However, agencies which put forth thousands of dollars for design plans and environmental assessments do respond to technicalities.
   Lynn Hubbard, who has been part of the Johnson County community since 1972, brought up one item, which, if founded, could take Stone Mountain out of the site selection process.
   "It is my understanding that there is a federal law that has to do with the Appalachian Trail and it has to do with things that can be seen from the Appalachian Trail.
   "Is anybody familiar with this law?" she asked.
   Hubbard said she talked with TVA's Gary Harris about the law before the meeting began.
   "I was assured at that time that TVA is under federal guidelines and federal law and that if this is a federal law, that under no circumstances or terms could they (windmills) be put on Stone Mountain."
   Hubbard requested TVA investigate and determine whether there is such a law.
   "If it is, then it is my understanding that this site can be seen adamantly from the Appalachian Trail and therefore we do not have anything to discuss tonight," Hubbard said.
   The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a 2,159.1-mile foot trail, runs along the ridge crests and across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from Katahdin in central Maine to Springer Mountain in north Georgia. The trail was designed, constructed and marked in the 1920s and 1930s, but it wasn't until 1968 that the National Trails System Act made the Appalachian Trail a linear national park and authorized funds to surround the entire route with public lands, either federal or state, protected from incompatible uses.
   Charles Cutlip, formerly of Hampton and now a member of the Johnson County Commission, let it be known that he would not be a rubber stamp in the event the windfarm became a political issue.
   "I stand alone, I guess, on the county board against the windmills ..."
   "No you don't," another commission member replied.
   "Two, I'm sorry," Cutlip said, continuing. "Clean air, Green Power, or whatever you're going to call it, I'm not opposed to any of that. I'm not an environmentalist, per se. I don't think you can control nature, but I try to preserve it. I don't go to extremes one way or the other."
   Cutlip said his concern with the windfarm issue is county economic development. "I wish TVA ... would look into our economic situation and try to help us some. ... and I just wish that instead of coming up here and dangling a carrot in front of us and saying 'this for that,' that they'd help us out to start with ..."
   DeNeece Butler, who with her husband owns Seasons Farm in North Carolina, was the first person of the evening to comment. Butler told TVA the Environmental Assessment "painted a perfectly horrible picture of how these things will defile the mountainscape."
   After consulting environmental and acoustical engineers and after reviewing the book, "Wind Energy," she said, it appears "there is an abundance of information that was left out of your draft, information that would serve only to make one even more apprehensive ..."
   As a North Carolina resident, Butler said she was particularly appalled by TVA "using the unfortunately ineffective verbiage of North Carolina's Ridge Law to thumb its nose at the spirit and intent of that law" by proposing to build a windfarm.
   Real estate law, state lines, and property rights notwithstanding, she said, "these mountains don't belong to North Carolina, Tennessee, or any other state above which they climb. ... these mountains belong to the American people so that they can come up out of the cities from time to time to refresh and comfort themselves in the presence of the awe-inspiring, pristine, natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains."
   Butler said those who have these mountains owe it to future generations to be good caretakers. She also put TVA on notice, saying she did not live in Afghanistan and was not ruled by the Taliban or any institution like them.
   "I live in America where when I am wronged by another, I have the opportunity to try to do something about it.
   "Please be advised that I will use every legal, political and practical means at my disposal to thwart having thrust upon me the travesty of the construction of a windfarm on top of Stone Mountain."
   One Mountain City man reinforced Butler's issue of the Ridge Law. "The Environmental Assessment tries to negate the ridge law we have in Johnson County by stating that transmission lines or transmission facilities are exempt from our law. But nowhere in any dictionary can I find under the definition of the word 'transmission' where it equals 'generation.'
   "We're talking power to generate electricity. ... You've got to transmit down the valley, that I agree with. But these are generating facilities, not transmission towers," he argued.