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Residents try to escape Howard County

The people of eastern Howard County have argued long and loudly against the advent of a wind farm within their community. Their efforts, to this point, have been in vain. So, a group of them approached the nearby town of Converse, hoping to escape the county’s jurisdiction.

Last week, Joe Lennon from the Converse Town Council approached the Howard County Council with a proposal – surrender planning and zoning authority for an area within two miles of the town.

“I was approached in the spring of 2013 by several rural Howard County residents regarding the wind farms,” said Lennon. “I told them we couldn’t do anything because we don’t have any jurisdiction in the area.”

Unable to stop the wind farm development already agreed upon by Howard County, the Converse Town Council still took action on behalf of the 41 petitioning residents. A proposal to transfer planning authority was presented to the Howard County Council for consideration.

“The residents felt this would be good because almost all of them have a Converse address,” said Lennon. “They come to Converse on a daily basis. These are people who would rather come two miles to Converse to express their concerns than drive to downtown Kokomo to do so.

“They are a part of our community, so we decided at a council level that we would spend some money – $5,000 – for the project and submit this for your approval.”

Lennon first approached the Howard County Board of Commissioners in July 2013 with the proposal, but he was told that the county would not consider it until the end of the year.

“I had not heard anything from the commissioners since,” said Lennon. “I’m not asking for approval today, but I would like to have a time frame where you guys can get an opportunity to review this and get with the commissioners. At least give some kind of idea other than you’ll look at it at the end of the year. We have taken a lot of time and spent some money to try to accomplish this for the residents of Howard County.”

The motivation for the request is assuredly the proposed wind farms, despite the fact that making the move would impact their arrival. The Converse Town Council has voted unanimously to adopt a non-binding resolution against wind turbines.

“We felt it would decrease the quality of our life in Converse,” said Lennon. “We have worked hard to have a pretty good little town. We have a lot of people coming into town in the evenings. We’re very vibrant. We’re fortunate.

“If this had been in place previously, we might not have been here today. (The wind company) would have come to our planning and zoning board, and it might not have been approved for wind turbines.”

The council held brief discussion on the matter, with Councilman Jim Papacek questioning how the proposal should be handled. According to state law, establishing this two-mile buffer zone for planning requires action by the elected legislative body of the county – the board of commissioners. It also would require approval from the Howard County Plan Commission.

Council Stan Ortman pointed out that Lennon does have some expertise in the matter of planning and property in his career with First Farmers Bank. Lennon confirmed that his experience alerted him to the need for Converse to protect its borders.

“We’re already starting to see some appraisers that are making comments that they are discounting property values based on the wind turbines,” said Lennon. “This is kind of late for the wind turbines, but this is for the future if there is going to be anything in this area that would affect the town of Converse.”

Lennon explained that the area seeking to be relinquished already is served by the Converse Police Department, the Converse Fire Department, and the Converse Ambulance Department.

“If additional utilities were to come to the area – sewage or water – it would be the town of Converse providing those services,” said Lennon.

This also would not be the first buffer zone established by the town. It already has a two-mile buffer in Miami County, similar to what is being requested in Howard County. In order to facilitate this action, the town intends to adopt the Howard County comprehensive plan to ease the transition.

The council determined that it does not have authority in the matter and referred Lennon back to the board of commissioners.

“We’ll get with the commissioners and get back to you,” said Howard County Attorney Larry Murrell.