Huntington County commissioners agree that they want to hear more public input about the proposed Plum Tree wind farm project, but cut short talk about placing a moratorium on the developer’s application.
In its regularly-scheduled meeting Monday, Jan. 27, Commissioners President Larry Buzzard and Commissioner Leon Hurlburt heard differing opinions on the application process from Huntington Countywide Department of Community Executive Director Mark Mussman and County Attorney Bob Garrett. Commissioner Tom Wall was absent.
“I haven’t discovered any mechanisms whereby we can say we can suspend any applications for wind energy developments for X amount of time,” Mussman told commissioners. “The only way that I can see that we can do that is by repealing the ordinance.”
Mussman was referring to “Section 720: Wind Energy Conversion System” of the county’s official zoning ordinance. The 17-page document, available as Ordinance 2009-17 on the county’s website, outlines rules on issues such as distance of turbines from property lines and rights-of-way, electrical components, permit fees and even the color of the turbines themselves. The section also addresses road repair responsibilities and decommissioning of defunct turbines.
Apex Clean Energy has proposed a 2,000-acre wind farm, which would be built in Salamonie and Rock Creek townships. However, local officials say the company has not yet submitted a site plan.
Mussman presented commissioners with sample road maintenance and repair agreements and a decommissioning plan from Apex.
“While the commissioners are kind of outside the decision-making process for the special exception and the development plan – the special exception is the Board of Zoning Appeals function and the development plan is the Plan Commission function – they are vital in the road maintenance and repair agreement because it’s (the commissioners) who will sign it,” Mussman said.
“The commissioners will be solely responsible for making sure that all of that road maintenance and repair agreement has been followed, including financial guarantees for warranty work.”
Buzzard said the process began three years ago, when the ordinance addressing wind energy development was written.
“Before any permit is issued, two issues have to be addressed – road use and decommissioning,” Buzzard said. “The plan has to be negotiated, a monetary figure has to be negotiated and the financing has to be met before it even goes to a site plan.”
Garrett said commissioners could not legally declare a moratorium on the application process, a proposal discussed at the commissioners’ Jan. 13 meeting. He cited prior court rulings that stated improper steps were taken in enacting the zoning code. He also said changing the rules in the middle of the process is ill advised.
“Once that application is made, whatever ordinance we’re under at that time, that’s the applicable ordinance, no matter what you do to change it,” Garrett said. “If the application is made today, it’s under the present ordinance.”
Mussman said he doubts Apex Energy could submit a complete application before any changes would be made to the ordinance.
He disagreed with Garrett over whether a partial application can be accepted before it is sent to the Board of Zoning Appeals for approval. Mussman said the county can make Apex file a complete application before it goes the next step, which he expects will take months.
“They don’t have to have an agreement; they just have to have a plan,” Garrett countered.
Hurlburt said he still wanted more time to hear public input and to decide what – if any – revisions to the county’s wind farm ordinance are necessary before Apex files its application. He said he is not convinced that only one public hearing would be enough.
“I’m not suggesting at all that this puts a stop to anything. I’m not so sure that repealing is the best thing because we need to have something in place,” he said. “I don’t know if there are situations where what we have in place is fine … but it sure would be nice to have the time to do some more investigation with both sides. Any argument can be disputed one way or another.”
Mussman suggested seeking public input on the wind farm ordinance as part of the Huntington County Plan Commission’s March 12 meeting.
“We would invite any and all comments and from there, that could give the Plan Commission a little bit more direction,” he said. “If we have all these comments, they then would direct the department to, say, bring forth proposals for X, Y or Z.”
The meeting was attended by David Templeton and John Paul, both of whom have voiced strong opposition to a wind farm in the county.
Paul interrupted the meeting, hinting that the wind farm ordinance was written with a template by Apex Clean Energy.
“It follows that every other county surrounding us – similar wording in all of them,” Paul said. “They (surrounding counties) said the template was presented to them.”
Paul also said he didn’t believe Garrett knew the law in Huntington County, saying he believed a moratorium could be declared on Apex’s application process.
“In no discussions here have I heard anything about benefits to the county,” Paul told Buzzard and Hurlburt.
“Other than you two gentlemen, you’re the only ones that have professed concern for the people. You’re the only ones. Now isn’t that sad that nobody seems to give a darn about the people? That’s the reason I came out of retirement, to get involved in this thing.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding