The ridge line debate: Myths, mysteries and misinformation

At a public hearing.
The public hearing on January 31

Lot of debate in Floyd County over a proposed ordinance to limit development along ridge lines.

Lot of passion at a public hearing where 47 speakers offered opinions, hyperbole and misinformation.

We’ve gone back over the claims, counterclaims and comments from that hearing along with statements at recent meetings of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors.

And we’ve identified the primary myths and misinformation that muddle the debate.

Myth #1: The proposed ordinance prohibits landowners from constructing buildings or silos higher than 40 feet.

Not true.  The proposed ordinance prohibits strutures that rise more than 40 feet “above a ridge line.”  It does not address or prohibit buildings, silos or other structures that sit on land below the ridge line and we’ve never seen a silo constructed on top of a ridge.

Myth #2: Wind turbines in Floyd County will reduce electrical rates and make it easier for those on fixed incomes to pay their utility bills.

Not true. The proposed wind turbine farms would generate electricity that the owners would then sell to the highest bidder among existing electric utilities.  Appalachian Electric Power (AEP) would continue to provide power to Floyd County residents at existing rates, which have doubled in recent years.  If AEP buys wind-generated power, it will do so at higher rates and those costs would be passed on to consumers.

According to testimony by officials of Dominion Electric Power before the Virginia State Senate in 2010, the cost of wind generator power is 28 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 11 cents for power from fossil fuels and hydro-electric plants.

Myth #3: Floyd County would experience a tax windfall from wind generator farms.

Not true. The companies proposing the wind generator farms would lease land from existing land owners in Floyd County and those owners would continue to pay real estate taxes to the county based on assessments set every few years by the county. In West Virginia, the assessed value of land where wind turbines were constructed remained stagnant or — in some cases — went down after the turbines were constructed.  Taxes on the turbines themselves go to the Commonwealth of Virginia, not county government and the companies developing the turbines enjoy generous tax credits and exemptions under state and federal law.

Myth #4: The proposed ridge line ordinance is Floyd County’s first step towards zoning.

Ah, the “Z” word.  Some in the county feel the upcoming revised comprehensive plan is a blueprint for zoning.  Others say the proposed ordinance is an unlawful infringement on property rights.  That debate will continue, with or without the proposed ordinance.

Floyd County residents already live under government-mandated restrictions on what they can or cannot do with their land.  They can’t construct a pond without approval of the Army Corps of Engineers.  You can’t build a sewer system without a permit from the county health department. You need a building permit to build a barn. Government already controls a lot of what landowners can or cannot do with their properties.

Good, fact-based arguments exist on both sides of the debate but those arguments get lost when the issue gets muddied by claims that can’t be supported by facts and assumptions that aren’t true.

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