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Eastern won’t challenge on wind turbine

The Eastern Howard School Corp. Board surprised the 20 residents in attendance at a special meeting last week when it announced that it would not challenge a remonstrance effort against a proposed wind turbine project if enough signatures are obtained.

The decision gives as few as 100 members of the community the ability to kill the alternative energy project that is expected to free up millions in the school’s general fund over the next 25 years by shifting the burden to the capital projects fund. The remonstrators have until March 12 to obtain the signatures, which then will need to be certified by the Howard County Clerk’s Office.

Board president Matthew Adams delivered the board’s response, revealing that there would be no challenge to a remonstration.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to announce that the school corporation will not participate in a petition remonstrance process,” said Adams. “When this project started, it was about reducing energy dependency. While the board of the trustees and the administration are still supportive of the construction of a wind turbine, we also recognize the concerns expressed by the opposition.

“We are hopeful this decision will help heal any division in the community, which the board and the administration have attempted to avoid from the beginning of this process. We have listened, even when we didn’t agree.”

The announcement was preceded by a public comment session that was polite and subdued in tone – even if the comments had some bite to them.

Tim Kenworthy, an opponent of the project, expressed dismay with the corporation’s desire to obtain federal dollars to subsidize the wind turbine, citing the fact that the alternative energy device would not be economically feasible without the outside funding.

“Without taxpayer money and a federal grant, the business case doesn’t exist,” said Kenworthy. “If without the federal money the wind turbine can’t break even or make a profit, it makes you question the overall viability of the turbine.”

He also questioned the warranty on the turbine, the stability of the manufacturer and the future of U.S. energy policy.

Another remonstrator expressed concerns that the turbine would not meet expectations in energy production, and a third suggested that the board had not performed due diligence in its researching of wind turbines and had based its decision on computer modeling results instead of hard data.

Other concerns included that the school board had fallen short in its effort to properly inform the community about the details of the project. And one remonstrator accused the board of being deceptive about the tax impact of the project – a statement that raised the hackles of the entire board.

Superintendent Tracy Caddell responded to some of the statements from the crowd, detailing the many methods by which the board attempted to communicate with the community – from months of public meetings to mailed notices to appearances in front of local civic organizations, explaining the project.

He went on to explain that the project was being considered because property tax caps had reduced the corporation’s ability to maintain facilities properly. After ongoing expenses, he estimated that less than $250,000 a year is available for maintenance and repairs. And an ongoing roof repair project is cutting that figure roughly in half.

He also disclosed that the board had researched wind turbine technology for two years prior to making the decision to move forward, interviewing and visiting other school systems that had turbines, studying the costs and benefits and seeking out as much information as it could find.

Caddell rebutted claims that the board had not been straightforward about the tax impact of the project, citing “misinformation” reported by local media that insisted the board would raise taxes when the amount of money paid by taxpayers would not change from the current level.

“This wasn’t done to deceive anyone, and it certainly wasn’t done to mislead anyone,” said Caddell. “It was an attempt to try to find a way that we could make sure your children and grandchildren had heat, air conditioning and roofs that didn’t leak, and that we could maintain our teaching programs if we got into a bad economic situation.”