The Whitewater Wind Farm project took a huge step forward in Fayette County Wednesday night.
Fayette County Commissioners, by a count of 2-0, voted to approve the county Area Plan Commission’s unfavorable recommendation for amending the county’s current setback ordinance, which determines the required distance of a wind turbine from the dwelling and property line of a non-participating landowner.
The APC had forwarded their unfavorable recommendation on amending the ordinance to commissioners, after weighing in on the petition from the Wind Project Concerned Citizens group, which had been seeking to have the county’s setback ordinance changed from a 1,000 foot setback to a 2,640 foot setback.
The group had submitted the petition to commissioners in response to their concerns about the proposed Whitewater Wind Farm project slated for Fayette, Henry and Rush counties, which could see up to 52 wind turbines placed in Posey and Fairview townships in the county. Some of those concerns voiced by residents opposed to the project include the impact of wind turbines on property values, health and the environment, with the idea of a larger setback distance helping to minimize that impact for residents not participating in the project.
The project is being handled by NextEra Energy Resources, one of the nation’s leading companies for wind energy, and involves the company leasing land from some property owners in Fayette County in order to construct the wind turbines for the wind farm.
The meeting, held at the Robert E. Wise Center for Performing Arts, drew about 75 people, including both supporters and opponents of the wind farm project. Both sides passionately voiced their thoughts on the wind farm to commissioners.
Craig Mosburg, one of the four residents who signed the WPCC’s petition to change the county’s current ordinance, was blunt in his assessment of the situation during opening remarks at the meeting.
“Commissioners, (Tuesday) I had the chance to review the placement of the wind turbines down at the APC office. So at this time, I want to take the chance to thank you people. First off, the county council members who voted for the (tax) abatement and for having no feelings for Fayette County non-participating taxpayers. Like one member said, it is all about money and being the poorest county in the state,” Mosburg said. “I was also glad to see a council member received a turbine on her land.
“Second, I want to thank the Area Planning and Zoning members for the discussion they failed to have at the last APC meeting, plus changing the number of turbines from 43 to 52,” he continued. “And last, to you, our county commissioners, thank you for giving me a chance to have 15 turbines and a substation within a mile radius of my farm now. Now I get to look out any direction and see a turbine. None of the county officials who’ve made this decision will have this opportunity. You will be destroying my peaceful life I have been living for the last 9 years of my retirement, because of your money-hungry decision. It is not too late to stand up to NextEra and say we want more setbacks for our taxpayers, and not be threatened with a breach of contract lawsuit.
“Finally, I know where 120 acres are for sale on (County Road) 600 North, with a great view of 52 turbines,” Mosburg concluded.
Mary Solada, the attorney representing NextEra, emphasized during her opening remarks at Wednesday’s meeting that the county’s current setback ordinance – established in 2008 – is a good one, which provides enough protection to all property owners.
“It is a very good ordinance,” Solada said. “A good ordinance is an ordinance that’s fair for all … I compliment you on your ordinance. I think a lot of thought went into it.”
Solada also informed commissioners that NextEra had already submitted their application June 15 for the special exception permits – needed to construct the wind turbines for the Whitewater Wind Farm project – to the APC, with a hearing on that application to take place in August.
She and representatives with NextEra will, at that time, will present evidence to the APC and Board of Zoning Appeals to show wind turbines don’t have the negative impacts on health, property values and others areas, as voiced by opponents of the project.
After the opening presentations, commissioners opened the floor to speakers both for and against the wind farm project.
One supporter, Connersville resident Audra McGuire, expressed that the wind farm would be a progressive step in the right direction of rebuilding the county and city.
McGuire heads the local grassroots effort known as “Revive the ’Ville.”
“I know that I wouldn’t be seeing them (the wind turbines), but I will say that I work with people all the time that just wish their kids could come home to Connersville, and have a job,” she said. “I believe the wind turbines won’t bring those jobs to Connersville, but this could be a step in the direction that will make Connersville more opening and inviting to other jobs that can bring things to Connersville. It would make us much more progressive and as a young person of Connersville, I want to live here. I want to raise my family here. I want kids to come back and have jobs here.”
That sentiment was echoed by Larry Keller, head of the landowners group which sought out the possibility of wind energy in Fayette County beginning in 2007. Changing the current setback ordinance would wipe out that possibility.
“One of our biggest points of interest was to have a strong wind ordinance that would become our ‘open for business’ sign,” he said. “This would be our thing to attract a first-class, top-notch, American-based developer.”
Others however, such as Darla Lane of Posey Township, said such an economic project should not be viewed as the county’s financial salvation, something she fears is happening.
“I do think it’s naive to think the wind farm is the county’s salvation,” she said. “I believe Fayette County needs to reinvent itself. I believe that Fayette County has experienced a lot of sad situations in the past history, but I have been – prior to being in Fayette County – a resident of Wayne County for a very long time, and I see Wayne County reinventing itself in very healthy, very unifying and very exciting ways, and I challenge you all to think of this type of reinvention instead of thinking there’s salvation in one way.”
Some residents who spoke out called for a compromise on the setback distance, something greater than 1,000 feet but less than the 2,640 feet proposed in the petition.
One resident, though, expressed her belief that county officials are not looking at the right color of green in considering the wind farm project, and not considering the long-term repercussions it might have on the county.
“One of the things I see is we’re desperate for green,” resident Betty Bell said. “But the green we’re after are greenbacks. That’s what they want.”
Commissioner Frank Jackson, in his remarks at the end of the patron comments portion of the meeting, said while he could empathize with residents in opposition to the project, the county had done its homework over the last year on the impact of a wind farm in Fayette County.
That impact is not a negative one on property values and other areas of concern, he said.
“I don’t minimize … your objections,” Jackson said. “I understand that’s no comfort. You probably don’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling about that, but it’s the truth, whether you believe it or not.”
The financial impact the project could have on the county was also a factor for Jackson in his vote.
“There is the money. There’s not hiding that and there’s no shame in that,” he said. “This county, when Visteon left, lost 18 percent of their budget. Eighteen percent of the county’s budget that we can’t serve the people with.”
Fellow Commissioner Zane Badore – Commissioner Leota King was not present Wednesday, due to a family emergency – felt much the same way about the wind farm project.
“Every person I run into … says we should have built the prison here when had time. Well, we didn’t do it. We kind of put our foot in the wrong water,” Badore said. “And here we are again, with an opportunity to do something good.”
He also expressed his concerns that the debate over the wind farm had caused family members, neighbors and others to become divided and stop speaking to each other.
At the end, the vote was an emphatic 2-0 to leave the setback ordinance the way it currently is.
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