An uncompromising court may land Meade County in another lawsuit, trample Constitution in process

Editorial by

CHAD HOBBS

Messenger Staff


When I came into this job with the paper almost two years ago, it didn’t take me long to butt heads with the late Judge Lynn and the magistrates that made up the Fiscal Court. It was never anything personal, but in my role as professional observer in the peanut gallery, I could not in good conscience sugar coat controversial decisions just because I happened to like or respect many, if not all, members of that court. Turning a blind eye to one side of the story just to console the conscience of public servants with an “atta boy” goes against journalism’s core.

I still have a cartoon a former employee drew for me back then hanging on my office wall depicting the magistrates as bobbleheads. I ultimately decided not to further pursue the refinement of the political cartoon for publication, but it was an accurate depiction of the court. No matter if it was several billion dollars in bonds, the county’s insurance rate increasing by over $100,000, or a whole slew of other issues, there never seemed to be one controversial or questionable enough to raise muster for the slightest bit of discussion by the magistrates. The Judge would call for a motion, would hear no discussion, and the magistrates would bobble their heads up and down in unanimous approval. That sentiment, as I have already stated, has nothing to do with being mean-spirited. I get paid to observe and relay those observations to the readers of this newspaper, and I was far from the only person who noticed that trend.

One such bobblehead approval was that of the county’s solar ordinance that was unanimously voted into law over a year ago by our current Fiscal Court, with the exception of Leslie Stith who was not serving as Judge Executive at that time. Now, those same magistrates, or at least a majority of the contingency, wish to renege on their own unanimous decision by overturning the ordinance in pursuit of a more restrictive one. The only problem is, regarding the two solar projects being developed in Meade County, that ship has already sailed by their own lack of foresight well over a year ago.

I am not sure if it’s public pressure or political aspirations in the general election next year that has the court wishing to reverse course, but justification aside, this appears to be yet another glaring failure of the magistrates’ short sightedness once again coming back to bite them.

Whether we like it or hate it, those landowners around the HWY 79 corridor have been in negotiations with this solar project for 4-5 years now. They have paid big money to bring in specialty lawyers to represent them and review the contracts the solar companies offered. They have received the blessing of the county government through the ordinance passed over a year ago. The contracts have long been logged in the county’s Deed Book. And now just months before the final approval by the Kentucky Public Service Commission which would allow construction to begin, the same magistrates that rubbed the bottle in the first place wish to put the genie back in.

When NextEra Project Development Manager John O’Hair brought up the fact that they had already purchased land beside the Big Rivers substation on the corner of HWY 79 and Guston Rd., and the proposed change to a 250-foot setback from roads would make it impossible for the company to place their transformer beside the substation to interconnect their underground transmission lines to the substation thus forcing them to build an overhead transmission line which they ensured the property owners in their contracts would not happen, Magistrate Billy Sipes questioned why they would have bought any land prior to anything being approved.

To which O’Hair replied, “Well, you had a previous solar ordinance that we had gone under and designed our project on. We had agreed with the landowners under that previous assumption. We had purchased the land under the previous assumption and that had been in the works for many months.”

Sipes went on to say, “And another thing on our setbacks, one reason we stiffened the setbacks up, especially from the road, is for the safety of drivers because we’ve seen many wrecks go way out, way back off the road and to be tied up in one of these and that’s the reason we are so strong on the setbacks.”

Landowner Harold Millay was quick to point out that such a sentiment was far from fair.

“You need to treat every business the same. We’re talking about the setbacks. You can drive down the Bypass and there’s a substation right there on the road. I live by a substation that’s expanding out every day. It’s within 250 feet. So, I’m just saying let’s go by the same rules and be fair for everybody. I don’t think we should be shut out because they have to follow stricter rules than other businesses do.”

The right to own land and the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness on that land, free from burdensome government overreach, is fundamental to the Constitution of this country. A man’s word and a handshake have long been not only the gospel but a defining characteristic of this great county. I am afraid the current course our court appears to be charted on runs the risk of trampling both of these aforementioned sacred truths. Not to mention, they open the county up to be in its second lawsuit in as many years with its own constituents first for failing to be transparent and upfront with one group and now for reneging on their word to another group in pursuit of burdensome government overreach on private landowners’ rights, regardless of how any of us feel about solar farms. It’s a slippery slope best avoided at all costs.

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