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Ask Matt ... about ridgeline development

Q. How did they get permission to build homes right on the ridgeline near Bearwallow Mountain? I thought there was a law that prohibited that.

There is. Remember the controversial high-rise condos on Sugar Top Mountain in Avery County — development that led to the 1983 Mountain Ridge Protection Act? That law, which was spearheaded by the late State Senator Bo Thomas of Hendersonville, allows local governments in 24 mountain counties to pass laws to protect the ridge tops rising over 3,000 feet in elevation. Henderson County has such an ordinance and it covers Bearwallow Mountain (4,232 feet) plus several others. On a defined protected ridge, one may not build a structure more than 40 feet in height so a three-story home could easily be permitted even if it straddles the ridgeline. There are exemptions for radio towers, poles and steeples.
But you have opened another door – windmills. Industrial wind turbines can reach 400 feet in height and they are most efficient when sited on ridgelines. Our state’s legal scholars have debated whether the ridge law exemption would allow windmills. The legislators in Raleigh actually drafted a bill in 2009 that would have amended the Mountain Ridge Protection Act but that effort died. I asked D.J. Gerkin, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), about tinkering with the 32-year old ridge law. “There is no movement now,” he said. “This is a testament to strong bipartisan support for the law in its current form.” Gerkin added that the present uncertainty of how wind turbines are classified probably keeps wind farm developers from looking seriously at WNC. The Southern Environmental Law Center also has a balancing act to perform. It supports renewable energy but also works for viewshed protection. Gerkin said that in the case of wind turbines, “They should only go where they are appropriately sited.” Talk about straddling the ridge line.
On a related subject, there are companies that make small wind turbines for home use. They are typically wired to a battery and are great for cabins on a hilltop with no nearby power source. I spoke with Ole Sorensen, founder of Solar Dynamics Inc. of Asheville. He said that his company handles these units but it has been several years since he installed one. “You have to have a very site specific piece of land to make it worth the investment,” said Sorensen. “Plus, there is too much competition with solar panels these days.”
Hey, want to see how they erect those monster wind turbines? Search online for “YouTube MidAmerican Energy wind turbines.” It’s an awesome video.

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