Back in December 2012, a sea change took place in Tipton County.
A bunch of people who had previously looked at local government with indifference suddenly became activists, fired up over the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm.
For most of last year, the wind farm issue consumed everything in Tipton County, as opponents organized to stop a plan which had sailed through the county commissioners and the county council.
Now comes the political reckoning for those who supported the Prairie Breeze plan.
May 6, three races could determine whether Tipton County joins Boone County in banning wind farms completely.
Commissioner Phil Heron, who voted for the Prairie Breeze project, has a primary battle with Gerald Shuck, a Haynes retiree who is campaigning on the wind issue.
Tipton County Councilman Dennis Henderson has an anti-wind opponent in Eric Parent, while Mike Orr, one of the leaders in favor of the Prairie Breeze project, is running against wind opponent Jim Leffler for the GOP nomination for the District 3 council seat.
I asked Heron if it was safe to assume Prairie Breeze was the big issue in the Republican primary.
“That’s a very safe assumption,” Heron said.
“There is another side to the issue,” he said. “I would not ban wind. I think that’s why they’re mad at me.”
There’s no question, judging from the tone of some of the dozens of letters the Tribune has received on the Prairie Breeze issue, that some people are flat out upset.
Others, like Shuck, try to focus specifically on the county’s new wind ordinance, which the commissioners passed after widespread criticism of the previous ordinance.
“I’m kind of divided. I’m not actually against the wind, but I wasn’t really in favor of it either,” Shuck said. “There’s a place for [turbines]. My main concern is the ordinances, and how they protect the people.”
Heron said he’s willing to listen to both sides of the issue, and he said he’d probably make the same decisions, if he had a chance to go back in time.
The Prairie Breeze project opposition, he noted, came rather late in the process.
It wasn’t until the county council passed a tax abatement for the project, in December 2012, that the opposition went viral. County officials had taken several steps to get to that point, without any public outcry.
With the primary looming, however, wind farms may be the only issue any of the Republican voters care about.
“Even the people who are anti-wind farm say the main reason they moved out into the country was because of its rural character,” Heron said. “But they’re arguing with farmers, who are the backbone of the rural area. Somewhere, there has to be a happy medium.”
Shuck, who lives near Windfall, within sight of the Wildcat Wind Farm, said he thinks there’s a place for wind farms, “but probably not in Tipton County.”
“I just feel like these particular people in power didn’t do what it took to protect the people,” Shuck said, citing a waiver provision in the new wind ordinance.
If someone wants a turbine on their property, they can waive the county’s new setback requirements. Shuck said the waiver will result in turbines sitting too close to residential properties.
“We need to do more to get population back in this county,” Shuck said. “Any time you get at least half of the people who don’t like something, you’re cutting down on your chances.”
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