JPs to review land-use ordinance

The Carroll County Quorum Court voted at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 19, to ask County Judge David Writer to appoint a committee to study the county’s “land use ordinance” and make recommendations on potential changes.

The ordinance, which was adopted in 1998 and last amended in 2011, has been cited in numerous complaints filed by opponents of Scout Clean Energy’s plans to construct an industrial “wind farm” southeast of Green Forest, comprising wind turbines standing several hundred feet tall.

Scout, based in Boulder, Colo., plans for the wind turbine project to expand over approximately 9,000 acres — about 14 square miles — in Carroll County, much of it along County Road 905. Scout says the project could generate up to 180 megawatts of electricity at peak demand — enough, the company says, to power almost 30,000 homes. Scout says it has signed lease agreements with more than 50 landowners to place wind turbines on their property.

The company estimates that the 30-year project will generate more than $14 million in lease payments and $25 million in tax revenue for the county.

The planned project has drawn vigorous resistance from opponents who say it will be harmful to wildlife, have adverse health effects and pose a potential safety risk for humans and potentially cause significant damage to county roads, along with disturbing the natural beauty of the area and having a negative effect on tourism. Opponents of the project also say Scout’s ownership can be traced to Chinese interests.

JPs have said they can do little to prevent the project from moving forward, with some saying they don’t want to interfere with the rights of individual property owners. Four proposed ordinances that would have imposed setback regulations on industrial towers in the county all have failed to gain approval from the quorum court.

Opponents of the Nimbus project have filed several complaints with the county, citing a portion of the land use ordinance that states: “To the extent allowed by federal and state law, the Carroll County Quorum Court shall act to initiate actions upon the complaint of one or more affected persons who allege acts that threaten their lawful use of water rights or result in the introduction of contaminants into surface or ground waters.”

Deputy prosecuting attorney Steven Simmons addressed the complaints in a Sept. 22, 2023, email to Carroll County Clerk Connie Doss.

“When taken out of context of the whole document this section appears to require that the quorum court take some action, however the entire document reads like a policy statement regarding the interaction of Carroll County to State and Federal agencies regarding land use of federal and state owned or prospectively owned property in Carroll County rather than a legislative act,” Simmons writes.

Simmons goes on to write that the complainants could seek “a judicial remedy, which appears to be a more appropriate forum.”

District 2 Justice of the Peace Bruce Wright sponsored a discussion of the land use ordinance at the March 19 meeting, calling the ordinance “a living document.”

District 1 JP Jack Deaton said the ordinance, which is more than 100 pages long, contradicts itself at times and suggested that JPs review the ordinances.

“There is a lot of good stuff in there and there’s a lot of stuff that contradicts itself in there,” Deaton said.

District 7 JP Kellie Matt thanked Wright for sponsoring the discussion.

“I feel like we’re breaking a lot of our own ordinance,” Matt said. “… The quorum court is the one that came up with this ordinance and passed it, so we’re breaking our own ordinance if we continue with this mess.”

District 3 JP Harrie Farrow said the quorum needs to “really look at this ordinance.”

“Do we want to keep it?” Farrow asked. “And if we do, we have to actually do what it says. If we don’t do what this ordinance says, then why write any ordinance about anything.”

Once JPs began discussing the idea of having a committee appointed to study the ordinance, Farrow asked about the possibility of having the committee comprise all 11 JPs.

“Do we want to leave that possibility open, or does everybody here feel like it should just be a smaller committee?” Farrow asked.

Deaton said that large a committee could be cumbersome and suggested that the committee be composed of five members. Farrow also questioned how the county judge came to hold the authority to appoint committees.

“That’s something that we’ve decided, right, that the judge is the one who appoints the committees?” Farrow said.

“The judge presides over the quorum court,” Deaton replied.

“Right,” Farrow said. “I know that but as far as how the committee is chosen, I just feel like — I mean, no offense — but when you get one person who has all the power, you can appoint a committee that’s going to do what he thinks is best, right, based on what he knows about the JPs. And so, I’m always uncomfortable about one person being able to appoint committees if he knows there’s a divided quorum court.”

“That’s why the county judge is the CEO of the county,” Deaton said.

“You don’t have any faith in me,” County Judge David Writer said to Farrow.

“No, I’m not saying that,” Farrow responded. “I’m just saying …” “You’ve been on this like 15 times since we’ve ever started any of these discussions,” Writer interjected. “You’ve always been against me appointing any committee. … You don’t have any confidence in me whatsoever.”

“This doesn’t have to do with you,” Farrow said. “We had a former judge.”

Ultimately, JPs voted 9-0 to ask Writer to appoint a five-member committee. District 4 JP Hunter Rivett and District 6 JP Craig Hicks were absent.

The quorum court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.