CANTON – The wind figuratively propelling forward the Stark County Historical Society’s project to place a 106-foot-tall wind turbine near the McKinley National Monument abruptly died Tuesday when the city’s Planning Commission voted 7-2 to reject the plan.
Mayor William J. Healy II, who voted “no,” said although he liked the concept, the project as proposed couldn’t overcome objections by the commission’s staff, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Ohio Historical Society that the turbine would disrupt the historic nature and aesthetics of the monument site.
“Personally, I’d like it to work, but I’m having difficulties with it,” said Healy.
Also voting “no,” were Service Director Warren Price, Linda Barnes, Phil Palumbo, Audrey Lavin, James Bowe and Parks Commissioner Andy Black. Thomas Young and Alex Haas voted “yes.”
The commission met Tuesday afternoon in the City Council Chamber to discuss the application to build the $32,000 turbine, which would be funded in part by a $12,800 state grant.
Robert Belden, the board president of the Stark County Historical Society, told the commission the wind turbine would provide an educational demonstration of alternative energy for students and honor President William McKinley’s legacy of promoting innovation. In addition, it also would provide some of the electricity for the monument, where the remains of McKinley and his wife are interred.
Belden said the turbine would be about 300 feet behind the monument, erected among some trees, well out of sight of most visitors. He showed commissioners slides with pictures of a balloon flying 106 feet off the ground to demonstrate that a turbine would barely be noticeable. Belden added that the turbine would receive less wind on any site closer to the McKinley museum, which is below the monument.
“This exhibit would not compromise the historic integrity of the McKinley monument,” said Belden, who brought along a 6-foot-long turbine blade to show the commission. He also discussed how McKinley enjoyed seeing new inventions, especially the exhibits of the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901, where McKinley was assassinated.
“It takes only one student to be motivated to be another Thomas Edison to make this worthwhile,” Belden said.
Roger Rowley, 68, of Washington Township, told the commission that he supported the project and the use of alternative energy because “what if the grid went down?”
Randy Feemster said as a former Timken steelworker and union local president, he favors the use of wind turbines that have Timken-made parts, but not one built next to the historical resting place of the 25th president.
“This is not a hands-on exhibit. It’s an eyesore,” Feemster said. “Imagine four wind turbines over the four heads of Mount Rushmore … or a wind turbine at Gettysburg. How great would that be?”
Stark County Historical Society board member Curt Werren said power poles and cell phone towers are routinely placed near cemeteries, and the turbine, which could be an educational model for a more large-scale wind farm, would not be more intrusive.
“This is a well-thought out plan,” he said.
Don Nist, 75, of Jackson Township, said wind power at best never could come close to fulfilling the nation’s energy needs and claimed that turbines kill birds.
But the commission’s planning analyst, Rick Zengler, said while he doesn’t oppose erecting wind turbines, he was recommending that the commission reject the county historical society’s plan. Citing reservations by the Ohio Historical Society and the U.S. Department of the Interior on plans to alter a national historic site, he said the turbine still would be visible from several angles around the site, especially during the winter when surrounding trees wouldn’t have their foliage.
Zengler said a smaller turbine on the roof of the McKinley museum might be more suitable, but Belden argued that would bring it even closer to the monument.
Belden said he was disappointed by the vote, but the society, which operates the McKinley Museum and Presidential Library, would look at drafting an alternative plan that would address the planning commissioners’ concerns.,
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