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Joint city-county meeting: Wind energy a hot topic  

Credit:  Rachel E. Sheeley | Palladium-Item | October 26, 2016 | www.pal-item.com ~~

It already has begun, but in the coming weeks and months, the future of commercial energy-generating wind turbines in Wayne County will be heavily debated.

The Wayne County commissioners and county Director of Facilities and Development Steve Higinbotham introduced many city and county leaders to the issue during Tuesday night’s joint meeting of the commissioners, county council and Richmond Common Council. Richmond Mayor Dave Snow and several county and city department heads also attended the meeting in the lower level conference area of the Wayne County Annex.

Wind energy; the former Reid Hospital property; the road improvement projects associated with the Blue Buffalo subsidiary, the Heartland Pet Food plant; and an update on the progress of the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission were among the hefty topics on the agenda.

Local leaders agreed each of those topics is important, but the most leading aspect of the meeting was that the majority of the city and county leaders were receiving the most up-to-date information at the same time on topics that will impact every resident of the county or city.

“The key part had the city, the county commissioners, the county council all talking together about projects that are going to be an impact not just in Richmond but the entire county. (Meetings like this) can only help to make all of us more efficient,” said Ken Paust, president of the board of county commissioners.

“It’s good for the city and county to be at the table and be able to have discussions and hear topics that affect us both,” said county council president Peter Zaleski.

“Everything that was discussed was important,” said Richmond Common Council president Bruce Wissel. “We are concerned about roads for Blue Buffalo. We’re finally getting some movement on Reid. There’s still many unknowns. It looks like we’re finally going in a direction to take positive action in the coming years.”

Wissel said regional economic groups, such as the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, are becoming the standard across the country and it will be have an economic impact on the community as it focuses on its goals.

Wind turbines also will affect everyone, and its a topic of special interest to Wissel, who owns property in Benton County, where there are 560 wind turbines. He said he’s seen it make a positive impact on the primarily rural county.

“I think this meeting was of great value,” Snow said. The opportunity to have an open dialog is essential to our progress.”

Snow said the reading material Higinbotham provided on commercial wind turbines is part of the due diligence leaders throughout the county will need to make the right decisions for area residents.

Paust said the information presented at Tuesday’s meeting about wind energy projects will be presented to each governmental entity in the county, such as town councils, in an effort to educate and then gather a consensus of what Wayne County residents want done with wind farming projects.

“We’ll be asking their opinion,” he said.

Since 2014 when the Headwaters Wind Farm in nearby Randolph County began operating its 100 turbines, county Commissioner Mary Anne Butters has believed it would be only a matter of time before wind farming would be suggested for Wayne County.

In the past few weeks, the topic has come to the forefront.

EDP Renewables North America LLC, the company that operates the Headwaters Wind Farm, has begun showing interest in Wayne and Henry counties and other similar projects have been proposed in Fayette and Rush counties.

Higinbotham said EDP filed a map of proposed new turbine sites in Randolph, Wayne and Henry counties with the Federal Aviation Association. Gaining approval from the FAA that those locations would not have an impact on an airport is the first step for companies such as EDP, Higanbotham said.

EDP also invited potential property owners from Wayne County to an information meeting in Winchester on Oct. 12. Butters attended the meeting, learning that the project’s aim is to bring wind turbines into Wayne County about eight or nine miles south of the county line.

Higinbotham said the northern portion of the county was designated as most favorable for wind energy production in a state study several years ago

Despite filing with the FAA and inviting property owners to discuss the topic, EDP has not approached Wayne County government with any proposals, Paust said.

“We actually have nothing from this company yet,” he said.

Seven years ago, the county anticipated the wind turbine movement and implemented an ordinance that requires a special exception from the county’s board of zoning appeals. The city of Richmond also has standards in place, said City Planner Sarah Mitchell.

In the inch-thick packet of wind energy materials Higinbotham handed out, he included the results of a recent local Farm Bureau survey that its membership favored allowing wind farms in the county.

He provided information about the discussions about wind farming taking place in surrounding counties, a study that looked at the health affects of wind turbines and information about the impact of wind turbines on property values.

The Benton County Assessor’s Office also provided a breakdown of how having wind turbines in the county since 2009 has increased the assessed value of land, led to a decrease in the average tax rate and increased tax dollars. Wayne County Auditor Bob Coddington, who explained the Benton County figures, said an increased assessed land value is what a county or city wants.

“This has been very positive for Benton County,” Coddington said.

However, every community has its opinion on the turbines. “If wind farms do come to Wayne County, it will change the complexion of this county,” Paust said.

That’s why he says the commissioners want to hear everyone’s opinions.

“We’ll take all the necessary time that we need,” Paust said. “We’ve given you everything we have at this point to analyze and move forward.”

In other business

About the other items on Tuesday’s agenda:

• Beth Fields, director of Richmond’s Department of Infrastructure and Development, said it has taken time to determine all the pieces that will go into remediation of the former Reid Hospital campus on Chester Boulevard.

One of the first steps will be to create a single-purpose entity to hold the property during the process. The city has been meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency to learn about loans and payback strategies and expects to have more concrete information soon.

Fields said the studies that show what needs to be removed and contained at the site are only good for about six months and it is time to order another. Once complete, it’s likely the first step would be to contain and remove asbestos.

With the scope of the project still undetermined, the type of permits, utility location and preservation, actual demolition and plans for future use are part of a long to-do list.

• The road improvement projects associated with the Blue Buffalo subsidiary, the Heartland Pet Food plant, includes portions under the governance of the city of Richmond, Wayne County and the town of Centerville. The roads in the project include Gaar-Jackson, Round Barn and Centerville Road North.

Each entity applied for and received Community Crossings grants from the state to help pay for the projects. County engineer Bob Warner said all efforts are being made to use those dollars most efficiently.

Gaar-Jackson will be widened significantly along both sides, while Round Barn will be widened only on one side. A “passing blister” will be added to Centerville Road North to maintain traffic flow when trucks are waiting to turn east from Centerville Road onto Gaar-Jackson, Warner said.

Warner said engineering drawings are about 50 percent complete, and Blue Buffalo has hired Milestone, which already has begun preparing the property for construction.

• County Councilman Jeff Plasterer has been leading the committees and community sessions to organize the five-county planning group known as the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, and he has become its only paid employee, a part-time position. Plasterer explained the process to this point and the goals set by the 39-member committee.

With a review of the employer-employee needs in Wayne, Randolph, Union, Fayette and Rush counties, the top concern is one area residents have heard before: the need for a skilled workforce.

Another important aspect of the regional planning commission is that its existence opens options for federal and state project funding that haven’t been available before.

Source:  Rachel E. Sheeley | Palladium-Item | October 26, 2016 | www.pal-item.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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