Some Real Hot Air…

Editor’s Note: We continue here a discussion of the revisions to the Town of Edgewood’s zoning ordinance to allow for the construction of wind turbines in the Town of Edgewood.  The current conversation began in response to this article by Bob Steiner on Town energy committee member Chuck Ring’s blog.  Mr. Ring made his case, and instructed us that he would rather not have the discussion continue on his blog.  We have chosen to continue the dialogue here.  We wish to note that the reference to Mr. Steiner’s article of September 23 was in error; it was Mr. Steiner’s response to Mr. Ring’s September 21 article which we found inappropriate.

We find it disappointing that Mr. Ring has chosen to put his position forth and ask that the debate cease.  We’ll honor his request not to continue the discourse on his blog, but will continue it here. We will discuss the final revisions in another article.

by John Weckerle

On October 7, 2009, the Town of Edgewood passed revisions to its zoning ordinance classifying small wind energy systems as a conditional use.  This has been a topic of discussion here and in other places for some time, and there has certainly been some heated discussion and hyperbole, perhaps even here at New Mexico Central. Today, we’ll examine a bit of hyperbole.  First, though, we want to do a little housecleaning, and make it clear that NM-Central has consistently expressed support for properly-sited wind energy projects. However, we strongly assert (along with authorities such as the National Academy of Sciences; scroll down to “Table of Contents” to read the report for free) that such projects should be sited to minimize potential damage to wildlife and mitigate other potential negative effects.

Having been rather busy over the last couple of weeks, we did not have time to be reading Mr. Ring’s blog on a regular basis until taking the time this past Thursday evening.  Today, we will examine some of the claims and statements made there, and perhaps clear up a few misperceptions that may have arisen.

In a September 21 article, Mr. Ring criticizes Edgewood Mayor Bob Stearley for not sending his letter out to the editors of local blogs.  This criticism is inaccurate – was copied on the same transmittal as the Mountain View Telegraph and The Independent, and we published it on September 22.  Mr. Stearley sent his letter to us, a blog that has been openly critical of the Town in the past, and we appreciate the consideration.  That having been said, there are likely dozens of blogs operating in the Edgewood area, and that list probably changes relatively frequently.  We see no reason for criticism in this regard; having copied both local newspapers and at least one local blog, we think the Mayor performed reasonably in reaching out to the public on this issue.

We are also disappointed with some of the rhetoric at Gadabout-Blogalot.  Mr. Ring accuses the Mayor of using “scare tactics” in the same article (an assertion repeated in September 23 article at Gadabout-Blogalot).  In a response to the September 21 article, Mr. Ring’s Gadabout-Blogalot associate, Bob Steiner, unfairly criticizes those who expressed concern over the ordinance revision as “Johnny Come Latelys” to the issue, and Mr. Ring, an energy committee member and former elected official, agrees “to the nth degree.”  Your editor then blows his stack.

Mr. Stearley’s comments do not amount to scare tactics; Mr. Stearley simply expresses concerns about the viability and effects of wind energy projects in Edgewood.  We are disappointed to see this tactic – accusing the other side of the debate of scare tactics – applied in this manner.  We also consider Mr. Steiner’s characterization of members of the public who expressed concerns about the ordinance revisions as “Johnny-Come-Latelys” inappropriate, and we are very disappointed that Mr. Ring agreed with that characterization.  Those members of the public – with at least some of whom we likely disagree – made their comments in response to the revisions released for public review by the Town, which is the appropriate point in the process for them to do so.  This kind of behavior distracts attention from the real issues, and we hope that this was not the intent, as it so often is. To borrow a phrase, we disagree, to the nth degree.

In an exchange resulting from his October 8 article, Mr. Steiner takes a thinly-veiled swipe at those who submitted written comments rather than presenting them orally at the September 7 Town Council meeting.  We consider it inappropriate to suggest that written comments are somehow less valuable than spoken comments.  In my case, I provided nearly three pages of detailed written comments and a detailed markup of the proposed legislation.  That amount of input is far better provided in writing.

Mr. Ring’s response to the discussion provides his position and then seeks to cut off debate.  The response also contains some statements that bear examination.  Mr. Ring states that “There are safeguards inherent in the process and just because there were no extensive formal environmental and other impact studies completed thus far, does not mean that such examinations will not surface as each application is considered on its merits and potential negative impact.” This seems misleading.  Neither the revisions nor the ordinance as a whole specify that environmental issues are to be considered, nor do they require that proponents provide such information, nor do they indicate that the Town may deny permits on this basis.  In fact, the ordinance is so lacking in this regard that the Town felt it necessary to create a separate ordinance to regulate cell towers, which share some (but not all) of the potential impacts associated with wind turbines.  Mr. Ring also states: “And, I am fairly certain that any existing studies, papers and other documents pertaining to various environmental impacts were consulted and considered up to this point…” The record appears to disagree.  We submitted a New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (NMIPRA) request, in which we asked for – and received – copies of all the energy committee’s minutes.  We also searched the Town site for any record that the topic was discussed.  The only record we found of any such discussion was a passing mention on the part of Karen Mahalick, who stated that she had heard that turbines were primarily a problem for large birds such as sandhill cranes and bald eagles (according to the NAS report, the overwhelming majority of bird fatalities “outside California” are “protected passerines (i.e., songbirds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act of 2005). ”  So much for the bluebird of happiness.  Raptors are of special concern because of their position in the food web, relatively long life span, and relatively low reproductive rate).  We gently chide Mr. Ring on this: even though he came into the effort rather late, any new committee member has a responsibility to come up to speed on deliberations and issues discussed and resolved to date.

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