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Wind farm opponents vocal at plan meeting

People vehemently against having a wind farm in Huntington County packed the GAR Room at the courthouse on Wednesday, Nov. 12, to make their feelings known to the Huntington County Plan Commission.

About 100 people crammed the room with more seated outside, most of them wearing red shirts symbolizing their opposition to wind energy.

As in multiple plan commission meetings throughout the past year, those against a proposed industrial wind turbine project railed against the commission, which had opened its regular meeting to public comments on its efforts to amend Section 720, the Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance.

Shouting matches occasionally disrupted the meeting, as the commission heard few comments about the ordinance revision and more about how the county shouldn’t have wind turbines at all.

Throughout the four-hour meeting, plan commission members decided more work needed to be done to amend the county’s 2009 ordinance, with Apex Clean Energy waiting in the wings to explore construction in the Plum Tree area of Huntington County.

The panel discussed recommendations from fellow commission member and County Surveyor Jay Poe. Poe, along with plan commission member Randy Bellamy, met with members of Apex Clean Energy, the Huntington County Concerned Citizens – a group opposed to allowing wind turbines in Huntington County – and a local banker. Poe said that after a 90-minute meeting, those involved agreed to some proposed changes to the ordinance.

Among the changes Poe recommended is that a bank or bonding company must be A-rated; new bonds or letters of credit must begin before the previous one has ended so there is continuous coverage; and the developing company must put money into an interest-bearing escrow account at the rate of 5 percent of the cost to decommission turbines per year over 20 years.

“We wrote this up and both sides agreed to what we turned in,” Poe said. “It’s very uncommon that you get both sides to agree on a whole lot of stuff that’s in our ordinance, but Randy and I thought that we should go with what the group had come up with … At least part of the ordinance would be agreeable to both people who are for and against having the ordinance at all.”

Plan Commission President James Sprowl said he liked what Poe’s group recommended, but acknowledged the ultimate decision rests with the commission.
“We’ve just got to do what we think is best,” he said. “But I like what you’ve got there. I think it’s something we can work with.”

Commission member Ed Farris said Huntington Countywide Department of Community Development Director Mark Mussman had reworked language in the new draft to require a wind company to put the decommissioning money up front, an idea that Poe later said he liked.

Members of the plan commission also agreed to strike wording about the scrap value of turbines from the ordinance and agreed to changes requiring wind farm developers to pay for fixing ditches and tiles both at the beginning of construction as well as during decommissioning.

Additional draft changes involving sound limits and vibration, blade glint, potential fines from bird and bat injuries and deaths, height restrictions, required documentation and enforcement were also discussed.

There was no formal action taken at the Nov. 12 meeting. At its conclusion, the commission unanimously voted to continue discussion to its next regularly scheduled meeting, on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the GAR Room of the Huntington County Courthouse.