Citizens voice concerns over Mineral wind farm

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PIEDMONT, W.Va. — Opposition and proponents to the US Wind Force Pinnacle Project both admitted during a community meeting that they may never see eye to eye

“I don’t think you all understand when someone is opposed to this,” Mike Wilson, Keyser area resident, said. “We are selling our mountains, we are selling our souls. Are they worth it? You’re not going to change their minds by having them talk to this person or that person. … It’s within our culture in West Virginia. These are our heritage.”

Dave Friend, vice president of sales and marketing for US Wind Force, said he would likely never understand the strong opposition because he likes the way the turbines look.

“You and I may never see that visual aspect the same,” he said at the Monday night Community Advisory Panel meeting at Trinity United Methodist Church.

The project, planned for Green Mountain, continues to meet some opposition, even as the 30-day intent to file has ended and US Wind Force can now submit the 18-inch-thick documentation for a siting permit.

Jim Cookman, vice president of project development, said he expects the company to file the application with the West Virginia Public Service Commission within the next two weeks. This would begin a 300-day review period by the PSC that will include an evidentiary hearing in Charles-ton and, likely, a public hearing locally.

In the past, Cookman said, the PSC has waited until the end of that 300-day period to accept any projects, so any work on the 23-turbine Pinnacle Project would not likely begin until early spring of 2010, if approved.

Frank O’Hara, Keyser resident and member of the panel, said he doesn’t think enough research has been done to protect the wildlife in the surrounding areas. Specifically, he was concerned with the bald eagles that nest at Jennings Randolph Lake.

Friend said studies have shown that bald eagles have managed to avoid flying into the path of the turbines in other locations.

O’Hara fears the company might try to relocate the eagles, which are a tourist draw to the lake, and said he had read in the October minutes of the panel meeting that this is a possibility. Friend said the company has never considered moving the nests.

Friend presented potential tax revenue to the county from the project, which would include more than $428,000 in local taxes, with more than $306,000 for education and the remainder to county government.

He said after going to Charleston for Mineral County Day at the Legislature, there was discussion of taking state tax money for the project and redirecting it to the county as was done with the business and occupation taxes.

O’Hara said he felt this would only amount to “false hope.” He said such legislation would create a disproportion in the state budget. Other counties with wind turbines could also request the state taxes, and such a move would affect the state budget too much for it to pass in Legislature.

Monday’s panel discussion included questions of job creation and whether local residents would be hired to construct and maintain the turbines.

Friend said they hire contractors who go through the local union halls, hiring about 100 local workers. After construction is completed, a handful of employees does regular maintenance on the turbines.

Cookman said while some jobs come directly from the company, there would still be benefits to area businesses. When the project had a need to replace hydraulic hoses on one of its cranes at another site, the hoses had been regularly purchased from a nearby store.

The panel will meet again April 6 at 6 p.m. at the Wind Lea Banquet and Conference Center in Keyser.

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