While downplaying the impact of their decisions on a potential wind farm in southern Henry County, members of the aviation board here are moving forward with the construction of a new runway.
Over the past months, representatives from the wind energy company Nordex have lobbied the New Castle-Henry County Board of Aviation Commissioners to consider asking the Federal Aviation Administration to change flight patterns at the city’s airport.
Nordex is planning to construct a wind farm in southern Henry County and northern Rush County. The proposed changes could alter height restrictions in southern Henry County and could allow Nordex to place more wind turbines in locations in Henry County, where wind speeds are higher.
However, aviation board members are showing few signs that they want to conform with the company’s requests.
On Monday night, the board received good news for its own project to build a new runway. The FAA announced that it had found no significant impact during an environmental assessment of the project.
That finding could allow the airport to compete for federal funding for the runway’s construction.
The finding also led to the question of whether the board should push forward with the FAA’s approval or whether it should go back to the FAA and have the agency reconsider the project, taking into account possible wind turbines that could be built in the next years.
Chris Snyder, engineer for the board, said going back to the FAA could delay the runway construction project by about a year.
Eventually, the board voted unanimously to move forward under the approved assessment.
Board member Brad Crowe said the board had been working to construct a new runway for about five years. Crowe said he didn’t want to jeopardize the board’s current timetable. He added that the airport is a key factor in economic development.
“The airport exists. The runway needs to be longer,” Crowe said at one point. “And all of these other things may or may not come.”
Board members also said they would continue to work with Nordex while adding that the ultimate decision on the wind farm could be up to the FAA.
Multiple board members said the board was losing the public relations battle over the wind farm. They said people in Henry County were blaming them for standing in the way of the wind farm and the tax revenue it would generate.
During the meeting on Monday, board member Joe McDonald said the aviation board’s job is to make sure the new runway gets built.
McDonald said county officials are sending the “wrong signals” about the wind farm.
“They’re holding court with Nordex like this is a done deal, instead of coming to the board and saying what impact thiswouldhave on the county if Nordex builds one of these towers in the wrong place,” McDonald said.
Board member Maurice Goodwin said if the flight patterns at the airport were changed, pilots would be flying over the City of New Castle. Goodwin said that change would have a big effect.
“Do you think residents of the City of New Castle would prefer to have the flight patterns over us or out in the county?” Goodwin asked.
Board members also said that if Nordex’s desired changes weren’t made, Henry County would still get about 10 to 15 wind turbines. That would be only 15 to 20 less than if the changes were made, they said.
Howard Kruger, project manager for Nordex, attended the board’s Monday meeting. However, he arrived after much of the discussion on the wind issues was over.
Kruger said the company doesn’t want to halt the aviation board’s goals or to decrease public safety. He said Nordex wants to reach a balance for both sides.
“At the end of the day it’s not up to us and you, it’s up to the FAA,” Kruger said.
Henry County Commissioner Kim Cronk agreed with Kruger on Tuesday. Cronk said he hopes the airport and Nordex can find a happy compromise.
“There’s a way to try to work both projects out,” Cronk said.
Henry County Council President Nate LaMar said he hoped that the aviation board would be willing to push for flight pattern changes.
LaMar said the county needs a win-win with both the new runway and the wind farm.
But LaMar also said, “The wind turbines would benefit a greater number of people in terms of the tax base it would bring for Henry County.”
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