“Green” energy is supposed to be good for the economy and environment.
But the possibility of a wind farm scattered across 18,000 acres in southern Whitley County has a lot of people there seeing red – including at least two former Fort Wayne residents who moved to the country to enjoy the open vistas and quiet rural lifestyle they fear hang in the balance.
“I’m a South Side High School graduate who never saw the country or a star-filled sky. This was my dream,” said Caroline Dennis, who owns Best Custom Cabinets in Fort Wayne and bought a house on County Road 275W eight years ago but fears her dream is turning into the proverbial nightmare.
For Jake Sherman, who moved from Fort Wayne to a 28-acre homestead off County Road 200W in July, the choice is simple. If they build it, he’ll go – if he can find somebody who wants to buy a house surrounded by 400-foot windmills.
Whether their concerns are valid is open to interpretation, of course. And some would call those concerns premature in any case: The county Plan Commission next week will consider a new zoning ordinance regulating wind farms, but there’s no proposal officially on the table – even though St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group has been lining up potential turbine sites for months and has a branch office in downtown Columbia City.
“We don’t even know if there will be a project, but we’d like to do one,” said Wind Capital’s Director of Project Development John Doster, who must wait several months before three test towers reveal whether the likely site between Indiana 114 and Indiana 14 is windy enough to justify a multimillion-dollar investment and federal tax credits.
But if the company’s “Crossroads Wind” project does happen, it will be good for the community, he insists: more jobs, more taxes, land-lease payments of more than $17 million over 25 years and clean-energy benefits equal to taking 32,000 cars off the road.
Doster said opponents’ concerns are unfounded, fueled by misconceptions or fear of the unknown that in other places have evolved into support once the realities of a project become clear. But opponents hope it never gets that far. Armed with studies purporting to show how wind farms create noise, reduce property values and can affect health by creating so-called “shadow flicker” and other unfavorable conditions, they expect as many as 1,000 people to sign a petition against the proposed ordinance.
Whitley County’s proposal attempts to addresses many residents’ concerns, according to David Sewell, executive director of the Joint Planning and Building Department. The current draft establishes guidelines for a turbine’s distance from existing homes, height and sound level, while also holding companies liable for various potential problems.
“We’re not trying to establish safety. (The companies) have to do that,” Sewell said, through the completion of sound emission studies and other safeguards.
“That’s like putting the fox in charge of the chicken house,” said Larry Long, a 35-year Whitley County resident.
I don’t begrudge opponents their concerns, especially when their land-leasing neighbors would enjoy most of the project’s rewards (though Doster said adjacent property owners could also be compensated). On the other hand, the potential benefits to the larger community are substantial, as well.
Significantly, Doster said Wind Capital will pursue the project regardless of whether the new zoning ordinance passes. The Board of Zoning Appeals could allow the windmills to go up on land zoned for agricultural use – without many of the safeguards provided by the proposed ordinance. That’s not likely, but it is possible.
All of which should serve as a cautionary tale for local officials and residents, too. A couple of years ago, I reported how wind-farm companies were looking at land near the Indiana-Ohio border, and although nothing has happened in Allen County, turbines are being planned in northwest Ohio, residents said.
Kim Bowman, executive director of the Allen County Department of Planning Services, said the county still has no specific zoning ordinance for wind farms but is working to update its codes. “Planning is usually more reactionary,” she said.
Yes, and that’s why residents should be commended for their diligence just as Whitley County should at least be recognized for attempting to address a situation comprehensively, and ahead of time. Whether that will be enough to satisfy anybody remains to be seen.
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