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Culver council aims for compromise in wind turbine controversy

Plymouth, IN – Culver’s town council aimed for a compromise in regards to a much-debated ordinance governing specifics of WECS (Wind Energy Conversion Systems, popularly known as personal-use windmills or wind turbines) in Culver, at the council’s Feb. 24 meeting.

The decision, which passed the ordinance on the second of three readings needed to make it law, came after the most recent debates over proposed changes some two years after work began to define proper use of the devices within Culver’s zoning boundary, something presently not covered by any ordinance
At the previous council meeting, vice president Sally Ricciardi had raised concerns about the lack of full information defining zoning boundaries, without which she was uncomfortable voting in the ordinance, which was prepared by Culver’s plan commission and had been punted back and forth over the past year between the commission and the council. Munroe had more conceptual issues with the heights allowed for some turbines and the distance separating them. They were encouraged to attend the February meeting of the plan commission which took place the week prior to the Feb. 24 council meeting.

Munroe reported, at the council meeting, that plan commission members rejected the notion of making more changes to the ordinance, citing the many hours of work they had already put into it. Some suggested the council pass the ordinance in its present form and go back to the plan commission to amend it in the future, something with which Munroe expressed discomfort.

She said an audience member suggested the council has the latitude to change the ordinance itself before passing it, something Clevenger said would be legal.

Council member Ed Pinder admitted he was concerned with the allowed height of 120 feet for the wind towers. Munroe asked audience member Marlene Mahler, whose arguments in favor of allowing WECS for agricultural use caused the council to reconsider its initial rejection of the ordinance, about reasonable heights of WECS for farm use, suggesting 60 feet would be a reasonable height.

Mahler said 60 feet is what WECS were 100 years ago.

“The one we have now was built 100 years ago and its 60 feet or so,” Mahler replied. “Would we put it up like that now? No. Would you? No. I can’t understand the double standards. Why can we put up a 100 foot tower for our cell phones, and we just gave (Culver Academies) permission for a 100 foot tower next to houses all over town, and the pole outside this door is 80 feet, and two miles outside of town we have grain bins that are 100 feet tall…why limit it now to 60 feet for a windmill?”

Audience member Chester Gut, now a plan commission member himself, responded that, given amount of kilowatt hours used on average in people’s homes, a 140-foot tower constitutes a commercial-grade WECS, regardless of its present classification. Commercial WECS are banned, by county ordinance, throughout Marshall County, though the 140-foot total height (including blade) is allowed for personal use by the county, a standard to which the Culver plan commission sought to conform in crafting its own ordinance.

Ricciardi, citing the range from 40 to 120 feet in tower heights proposed by various viewpoints, suggested a compromise of 80 feet for towers, not including the blade.

Council member Jean Rakich suggested Ricciardi’s proposed “happy medium would be wonderful,” adding the council should take the determination under its own control since “the plan commission doesn’t want it,” though Gut emphasized not all plan commission members were unanimous in rejecting further discussion of the ordinance.

The council’s third and final vote is expected at its March 10 meeting.

For more details, see next week’s (March 5) print or e-edition of The Culver Citizen.