MERRILLVILLE – The Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday narrowly approved three variances allowing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697 to install a 159-foot tall wind turbine at its training center and offices at 73rd Avenue and Mississippi Street for instruction purposes and to generate power.
Three BZA members voted in favor of height, location and use variances, with one member voting against the turbine and one member abstaining.
Member Ric Holtz said he was not against the project, but wanted to defer the vote so he could visit similar turbines in Lafayette to determine noise levels, which was one concern of several people living across Mississippi Street from the hall who expressed opposition to the wind turbine.
Member Sylvia Kraft abstained because she said she was undecided on the issue.
Engineer Jeff Ban, speaking for the union, said the local wants to continue to expand its services to membership.
“Alternative power is new and our membership needs education on it. We built solar panels on top of the facility, and wind power is at the forefront of alternative power,” Ban said.
He said the turbine would be built about 250 feet north and west of the intersection.
Ban said the turbine would be small compared to those near Fowler on Interstate 65, which he said are 300- to 400-feet tall. He said power generated from the turbine will be used to power the facility, with any remaining power sold to Northern Indiana Public Service Co.
Regarding noise, Ban said the turbine would generate between 45 and 55 decibels, while the town of Merrillville allows a noise level up to 60 decibels.
Ban said the noise level would be lower when there is no wind and the turbine isn’t running.
Holtz asked if the turbine could be run only during instruction hours so there wouldn’t be continuous noise. Ban responded that this is a $750,000 investment by the union and to get some of its money back it would need to sell some power to NIPSCO.
Hobart resident Caroline Kirby, who said she lives right across the street from the union hall, said she doesn’t want to have to look at a wind turbine in front of her house or hear the noise it generates.
“(Interstate) 65 can be loud. Add the noise from a wind turbine on top of that. This is a residential area,” Kirby said.
Another resident, David Kreuger, said literature he’s read has stated that not all noise generated from wind turbines is audible, adding that it can affect bird migration as well.
“I think more thought needs to be put into this,” he said.
Another resident called it a residential area with a large waterfowl concentration that she didn’t want to see disrupted. She also expressed safety concerns in the event strong winds could knock down the turbine.
However, BZA attorney William Touchette countered that while the Hobart side of Mississippi is largely residential in that area, the Merrillville side is zoned commercial and would continue to be developed commercially.
“The town built a four-lane highway with the intent that it would be developed commercially. This is the future of area as far as Merrillville is concerned,” Touchette said.
Touchette also pointed out that the project will benefit IBEW members.
“This is to train people who live in this area to have contemporary, high-paying jobs. There are wind farms down in Fowler. People need to work on them. I’d like to see the people up here get these jobs,” he said.
The project will move to the Town Council for a vote.
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