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Democratic process lacking in Howard Co.

When residents showed up at a Howard County Council meeting recently to discuss the tax abatement being given to a wind farm developer, it was reported they were there to “speak out against wind energy.” I beg to differ. It was about democracy, or lack thereof.

Residents had witnessed democracy in action just a few months prior in Grant County, where the county council there purposely denied a motion to approve an amended economic development agreement for the foreign company, E.ON Climate & Renewables. Those in attendance heard of the “misleading” statements made to officials by E.ON concerning matters of health and safety, as well as issues the company failed to mention altogether. They listened as one council member correctly stated they were there to “serve the will of the people” and his job was to represent that in all his decisions, including this industrial wind turbine project.

Making note of the more than 2,200 signatures against this wind farm, he was firmly against renewing the previously approved tax abatement, and after two consecutive requests by E.ON the matter died for lack of a motion. The tax abatement was not approved in this new amended EDA. It blew away.

This was the topic residents brought to the Howard County Council on April 22. They spoke courteously yet emotionally about how they felt toward the entire process that brought them there that day. And I believe the majority of the Howard County council members truly wished this entire wind farm matter would “just blow away” here as well (pun intended).

I remember learning about democracy in school. I thought of it many times during this whole affair. I thought of it when I read that large-scale industrial wind turbines were allowed as “permitted use” in the current Howard County ordinances dealing with agricultural/rural residential areas, even though home construction was still allowed only by “special exception.” Does this seem wrong to anyone else?

I thought of it when I learned three townships in eastern Howard County were deemed “economic revitalization areas,” even though they clearly did not fit the state’s definition as such. Again, isn’t this a misuse of the rule here? Was this only done as a prerequisite for the county to be able to approve the tax abatement requested by E.ON? In fact, according to E.ON, this abatement was a necessary condition guaranteed them in the contract it had entered into with the county in that economic development agreement we never got to vote on – an agreement that by definition is one negotiated out of the public eye.

Being told by officials later that this defining of an area is commonplace and happens all the time still doesn’t seem to make me feel that it is right. In fact, I would venture to say that I’m not alone here in thinking it is in fact wrong.

It has become clear to all who have attended meeting after meeting on the issue of this industrial wind turbine project that money was and is the driving force behind it. That’s a huge, large-scale green giant not easily harnessed anymore through our democratic processes. And though it’s been awhile since Mr. Motts taught me about democracy so many years ago in high school, I can’t for the life of me remember reading about money in the Constitution or how it should change the ways in which some things are done. Maybe I was absent that day.

Grace Aprill