Wind farm opponents now have 30 days in which to file an appeal of the decision in the Wells Circuit Court. The group’s leaders indicated after the meeting that this option will, at the very least, be carefully considered. Should they decide not to proceed however, Apex will be able to proceed with its plans to establish 86 turbines in Chester, Liberty and Nottingham townships and begin wind energy generation in Wells County.
It wasn’t the result opponents of the proposed Wells County wind farms wanted to see, but the Area Plan Commission approved the Apex Wind Energy plan, with conditions, for its two wind projects by a vote of 6-4 in the early hours of Friday morning.
Almost 1,000 people flocked to the Southern Wells gymnasium Thursday evening, and the large turnout forced a 15-minute delay to the start of the meeting. By the time the issue came down to a vote at approximately 1:15 this morning, that number had decreased significantly.
Speakers for and (mostly) against took until just after midnight to make their points to the board. APC Director Mike Lautzenheiser Jr. then read through each of the requirements stipulated in the county’s zoning ordinance to ensure the plan complied with each.
That didn’t quite prove to be the plain sailing that Apex officials had hoped, as Lautzenheiser announced that he did not believe the requirements relating to shadow flicker had been met. Lautzenheiser noted that worst-case scenario measurements indicated that 204 homes were potentially subject to more than 30 hours of shadow flicker each year.
Bill Horan advised that he would like to see this number reduced to 15 hours, noting that 12 homes of county residents who have not signed wind farm leases were subject to 15 hours or more.
Jarrod Hahn advised that Apex has not yet signed a road and drain use agreement with the county, and requested extra provisions to be placed in this agreement to ensure sufficient funds would be available to address any issues that may arise.
And further, it was noted that two turbines do not meet the setback requirements in the locations they are currently marked down for. This could be addressed through variances, but that will require the approval of the neighboring property owners.
After board members raised the concerns they had, close to half an hour was spent in drafting a lengthy proposal which addressed these issues and included provisions to ensure compliance. With little action visible to the audience during this period, and also with the microphones switched off, the patience of the remaining audience was tested.
(The full motion with the final wording was not available for publication in today’s News-Banner, but will be presented when it becomes available).
Finally, after reminding the crowd that the plan commission had held numerous hearings and meetings drafting the wind ordinance with minimal public attendance or objections, board member John Schuhmacher presented the motion, with lengthy “certain conditions” that included Hahn’s suggestions for drainage repair funds, specific stipulations for mitigating shadow flicker complaints and details on the two specific setback issues.
The motion was seconded by Finley Lane. Angie Dial, Horan, Lane, board president Jerome Markley, Keith Masterson and Schuhmacher voted in favor of the motion. Harry Baumgartner Jr., Hahn, Richard Kolkman and Tim Rohr voted against.
Mike Morrissey was absent due to a conflict of interest, as a family member has signed a lease with a wind company.
Wells County Economic Development Director Mike Row gave a presentation on the wind farm plan’s economic impact. Projections are that 15 direct jobs will be created, which standard formulae say will then create 25 indirect jobs.
Coupled with the lease payments to landowners, Row said the total annual impact would be about $1.3 million. Row stated in his opening remarks that his presentation “does not signify support or opposition” to the projects by his office or the Wells County Chamber of Commerce.
Wells County Council member Jim Van Winkle and Commissioner Scott Mossburg reviewed plans for use of direct economic development payments from Apex. Matt Erkerle of Umbaugh Associates presented his firm’s estimates of the project’s impact on property taxes.
The increase in total assessed values, his study indicated, should lower tax rates in the Southern Wells school district.
Those who addressed the meeting “for” the proposal concentrated mainly on the economic benefits to the county, although Connie Neininger, White County’s economic development director, did respond to more general questions when asked to comment on the objections raised by wind farm opponents.
Neininger advised that there has been no documented health issues in White County since wind turbines had been installed there. She advised that at a distance of 500 feet, the noise levels were less than that of a common household refrigerator, and that the effects of shadow flicker were very minimal, apparently only appearing briefly in the very early morning (approximately 6 a.m.).
Neininger noted that it was too early yet to evaluate the impact on property values. She was unaware of anyone having left White County to get away from wind turbines.
She noted that the wind farms had provided huge economic benefits for White County. Weekly tours have even been organized, with a fee charged to visitors to see the farms in action.
The longest presentation, lasting almost 40 minutes, was made by Richard James, a mechanical engineer who has made a career of studying the impact of low-level sound on health issues. He cited numerous studies of the impact increased decibel levels will have in rural areas. Much of the information presented by James was from older studies, dating as far back as 1980, but he still felt this information was relevant.
Marilyn Maddox reminded the board that the Wells County Concerned Citizens had accumulated over 1,200 signers to a petition opposing the plans.
Elizabeth Boxell, speaking in opposition, expressed concern that under the current proposal, several homeowners would be unable to build on their land due to turbine setback requirements. She noted that due to the presence of a turbine on a neighboring property, she can no longer build a home on half of her existing property.
County resident Ted Claghorn gave an impassioned speech to the board that the wind farm violated property rights of those who are not participating in the project, which thus violated the U.S. Constitution.
Wells County Commissioner Paul Bonham, speaking as a neutral observer, also requested APC board members to consider this impact when making their decisions.
Milo Schaffner, a township trustee from Van Wert, Ohio, reported on a number of issues experienced in his county, suggesting that recent positive publicity given to the turbines there was not necessarily the full story.
Schaffner also noted that daytime noise associated with turbines is minimal compared with the noise generated at night. James agreed with that statement.
Fort Wayne attorney Pat Hess, who is formally representing the Wells County Concerned Citizens group, gave a detailed listing of his interpretation of violations the submitted plan has with the county’s established zoning ordinance.
“The only way to protect your citizens,” he told the panel, “is to conduct adequate studies.” He alleged the panel had not accomplished that.
“This failure has resulted in lawsuits in other locations,” he said.
He stated that the latest revised plan, which had been submitted to the APC just one day prior to the hearing, “was incomplete and in violation of the zoning ordinance.” Among the objects he cited was a lack of proper notification, specifically to adjoining areas in Huntington and Blackford counties.
Later in the discussions, David Warshaur of the Barnes and Thornburg law firm in Indianapolis, who helped provided legal counsel for the APC Thursday night, said that the specific articles Hess cited did not apply to development plans and that the plan’s revised submission’s timing was not in violation of the ordinance.
Hahn specifically inquired if proper notification requirements had been met and was given a positive response.
Apex representative Kent Daugherty told the crowd that they had revised the plans in consideration of the objections voiced at and since their December presentation, decreasing the number of turbines by 25 percent in Phase 1 and 30 percent in Phase 2 and by increasing the average distance of the turbines from non-participating homes.
Alan Lance of Uniondale advised that the presence of turbines created issues for aerial spraying of farm land. He noted that helicopters could be used in place of planes, but this would increase costs by up to 50 percent. He also doubted that Lutheran Air would be so keen to pick up patents in close vicinity to a turbine.
Several opponents of the proposal felt the installation of wind turbines on farm land was turning the land from agricultural to manufacturing, and felt this was not an example of “preserving the community,” as the county’s zoning ordinance requires APC board members to do.
Tim Stepp repeated the request he made at the most recent meeting of the Wells County Commissioners, urging the county to wait before making any decision, given that newer technology than that being brought in by Apex was already available, and would better serve the county.
In all, eight speakers, organized by the Wells County Concerned Citizens spoke against the proposal, before 32 others who had registered to speak were given their opportunity. Of these, 12 took the opportunity, while the rest stood aside.
Wind farm opponents now have 30 days in which to file an appeal of the decision in the Wells Circuit Court. The group’s leaders indicated after the meeting that this option will, at the very least, be carefully considered.
Should they decide not to proceed however, Apex will be able to proceed with its plans to establish 86 turbines in Chester, Liberty and Nottingham townships and begin wind energy generation in Wells County.
The next meeting of the APC will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at the Wells Carnegie Annex, 223 W. Washington St., Bluffton, opposite the library.
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