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Wednesday, 30 December 2009 15:54

The Naturalist's Corner

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2010-to be continued

Will 150-foot long fiberglass wands magically spin electricity from mountaintop zephyrs across Western North Carolina in the near future? The issue of industrial-sized wind turbines along the ridgetops of Western North Carolina is sure to blow up again when the General Assembly reconvenes in May.

District 57 Rep. Pricey Harrison has vowed to reintroduce legislation promoting the pursuit of large-scale wind power production along the ridgetops of WNC after Senate Bill 1068, amended to discourage such production, passed the Senate and House last August. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, newly elected President Pro Tem Martin Nesbitt, and other mountain senators appear committed to the bill in its new form and dedicated to preserving what they feel is the intent and language of North Carolina’s Mountain Ridge Protection Act.

Opponents of industrial-sized wind farms across the mountains of Southern Appalachia may have a new bat in their arsenal. On Dec. 9, 2009, U.S. District Judge Roger Titus granted an injunction stopping construction of a wind farm in West Virginia, noting that the developer, Beech Ridge Energy LLC, should have sought an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because their project was likely to kill federally endangered Indiana bats.

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And speaking of bats, biologists and scientists across the Smokies fear the winter of 2009-2010 will be the winter white-nose syndrome shows up in the Smokies. White-nose syndrome, named for the white fungus that appears around the muzzle of infected animals, was first documented from Schoharie Cavern, near Albany, N.Y., in 2007. The disease has spread rapidly and is moving south. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Virginia have been added to the list of states reporting white-nose syndrome bringing the total to nine states. More than a million bats, including 25,000 endangered Indiana bats have succumbed to white-nose syndrome and biologists believe the jump from Virginia to Tennessee and/or North Carolina is inevitable.

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It’s been a long and winding road from “nowhere” to a cash settlement. But does a paltry $12.8 million settle anything. The money, buried deep in this year’s omnibus spending bill was secured by former Swain County resident Congressman Heath Shuler. Swain County residents seeking a cash settlement had arrived at a more substantial $52 million settlement figure. Shuler calls the $12.8 million a “down payment” and promises to keep working for a more equitable settlement. In a county basically bereft of property tax revenue (over 85 percent of the land in the county is federally owned), it seems only fair the Feds should pony up a little more. I hope Shuler shows the same kind of conviction and courage he did standing behind Mike Ditka’s porous offensive line for the New Orleans Saints.

Everything old is new again – happy (old) new year!

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