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Wind farm opponents backed by experienced lawyer

By Michael Harrington • Jun 24, 2019 at 5:00 PM

BELLEVUE — A group of local citizens have filed to intervene in the proposal for a wind farm in Huron and Erie counties and they have chosen a powerful law firm to represent them.

Apex Clean Energy has submitted an application to the Ohio Power Siting Board to build wind turbines in the two counties for its Emerson Creek Wind Project. But a group of more than 50 citizens from Erie, Huron and Seneca counties recently filed to intervene in the application.

“The intervention process provides an additional avenue for groups and individuals — whether they support, oppose or are neutral toward a project — to have their voices heard during the board process,” Apex spokeswoman Natasha Montague said.

The citizen group is represented by attorneys John F. Stock and Matthew D. Gurbach from the law firm Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff.

Stock, a Columbus-based attorney, has experience opposing alternative energy, including representing the Ohio Coal Association’s attempts to block American Electric Power’s wind and solar projects.

He also represented two people who were interveners to the Icebreaker Wind Project, a plan to build six turbines on Lake Erie. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, it was later discovered Murray Energy Corp., a coal company, helped pay for Stock’s services without the knowledge of the residents.

Other cases he’s involved in are the applications for wind farms in Seneca and Sandusky counties, where he again represents several citizens opposing the projects.

It’s unclear how he became the legal representative for residents opposing Emerson Creek. Stock filed to be added to the case’s service list in October 2018 before he was officially representing anyone.

When asked if Stock was working pro bono or if they raised the money to retain him, Dennis Schreiner, a member of the citizen group, said the question should be directed to Stock.

“As a practice, I don’t speak to press on cases,” Stock said when asked about the motion and his involvement.

Apex through its subsidiary Firelands Wind, Llc., wants to construct approximately 71 wind turbines in Erie and Huron counties. The project has received support from many in the area.

“We are proud to have so much local participation for Emerson Creek Wind, with more than 300 agreements signed for the project,” Montague said.

But it’s also faced stiff opposition from local residents. After the board decided Apex’s application was complete, the group of local residents filed a motion to intervene.

If approved they become a party in the application enabling them to voice support or concern and make additional demands of the other parties in the case.

“This, along with public information meetings, public hearings and testimony demonstrate the many points throughout the permitting process during, which the community can provide feedback,” Montague said.

In the petition to intervene, Stock argues the residents’ interests aren’t be represented by any party and lists concerns including excessive noise, shadow flicker, killing of birds and bats and ruined views.

Apex doesn’t oppose the right of 38 of the residents to intervene, but its attorney, Christine Pirik, filed a memo arguing against the right of 21 of the petitioners to intervene.

She contends 19 aren’t able to intervene because they don’t live in the project area and two of them can’t intervene because the land they purchased has a contract with Apex. 

In a reply memo, Stock argues four of the people own land in the project area, in addition to their residences, that give them a right to intervene.

Pirik also says the residents’s interests are represented by the board and the concerns listed in the petition are what the board’s staff will be investigating as it evaluates Apex’s application.

But many of the people opposing the wind project, believe the decision should be left to the community it affects and see the motion to intervene as a way to become a direct participant in the board’s discussions.

“It allows us to address the concerns we don’t feel are being properly represented,” Schreiner said. “We can appeal to the board and say we have an important perspective that wouldn’t be said by the other parties.”

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