Tuesday night was the last meeting of the citizen committee tasked with reviewing the county ordinances for wind turbines.
With a vote of 4-2, the Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) committee agreed to dissolve and make their final recommendation to the Henry County Planning Commission.
The Henry County Commissioners approved the WECS committee in July to review the existing wind energy conversion system ordinance. The ordinance falls under “Chapter 154: Utilities” of the county code.
The WECS committee recommendation will be that the Henry County Planning Commission amend the ordinance to state that industrial wind turbines be set no closer than 1.1 times the height of the tower from non-participating property lines and 1,250 feet from non-participating dwellings.
The current setback distance for any WECS in Henry County is “at a minimum, 1,500 feet or more from any residential zoning district or 1,000 feet or more from any business zoning district.”
The benches of the Henry County Courthouse were filled Tuesday night with people wearing yellow and white “No Wind” shirts, emblazoned with a red circle-slash over the silhouette of a wind turbine. Several members of the audience used cameras or cell phones to record the meeting.
Sheriff’s deputies stood near the back of the room in case Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs needed anyone removed from the building for interrupting the proceedings.
The committee opened with a discussion of what their actual job was when it came to reviewing the current ordinances.
Randy Jones, who represents the planning commission on the WECS committee, asked for clarification on the Henry County Commissioners’ specific guidance.
The commissioners asked the WECS committee in September to make any recommendations for changes in the ordinances that they felt are in the county’s best interest.
Jacobs said he had not received clarification from the Henry County Commissioners following that September meeting.
“It was my impression when I was at that commissioners’ meeting when it was asked are we to be looking at just the setback distances … what I heard was that the expectation was that we would be looking at the entire section for the WECS committee,” Jones said.
Committee member Rosalind Richey said that was her understanding as well.
Richey said that when she agreed to be on the committee, it was her understanding that they would be reviewing the entire ordinance. She said the ordinance does not include any mention of schools, hospitals, nature preserves, a complaint process or decommissioning procedures.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Richey said. “We are not finished.”
Steve Dugger, who sits on the committee on behalf of the Henry County Council, disagreed with Jones and Richey on their mission.
“It’s never been my understanding that we were going to go through the ordinance line by line and rework it and change it,” Dugger said.
Dugger said the top priority for the committee has been the setback distances. The one motion that the WECS committee passed at their September meeting was about the setbacks.
“I’m still not sure we’re clear – I am, but I’m not sure the committee’s clear – on what is the intent of this committee,” Jones said.
Richey suggested getting clarification from the commissioners before moving forward with any recommendations.
Dugger told the committee that he had been bothered and harassed at home over the wind turbine issue and “enough’s enough.”
Dugger made a motion to present the setback recommendation to the planning commission and dissolve the committee. Steve Holmes seconded the motion.
Holmes said he feels the task of the committee is to review the existing ordinance. He said they should only discuss the concerns that Richey had if the items were already in the ordinance.
“But we can’t incorporate them,” Holmes said. “We’re not writing an ordinance, we’re reviewing an ordinance.”
Richey asked Jacobs if he was satisfied that the committee had done the things that the Henry County Commissioners had directed them to do.
“I think there’s still some ambiguity on what the commissioners want,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the direction from the commissioners was that the WECS committee review the ordinance and make any recommendations for change they saw fit. The choice was up to the committee members, he said. Jacobs took a show of hands on Dugger’s motion.
Dugger, Holmes, and committee members Corey Murphy and Katina Dishman voted in favor of the motion. Jones and Richey voted against. Member Cara Taylor was not at the meeting.
When the vote came down to dissolve the committee, Richey threw her hands up and stood back from the table.
“I am embarrassed to say that I volunteered to be on such an irresponsible committee,” she said into her microphone before slamming it on the table.
The anti-wind crowd began booing and yelling from the benches as the committee members left the courtroom.
“It was a joke,” said Don Miller, one of the people in the audience who was upset with the vote. “It was obviously a joke. It was the most unprofessional excuse for a committee I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen committees.”
Ron Romine also attended the meeting. Romine is worried that fights will break out between Henry County citizens and officials if the wind turbine issue continues.
Romine’s mother Mary lives near the Shenandoah School Corporation wind turbine, and she claims that the spinning blades are causing her vertigo, stomach aches and head aches when the turbine is facing her house.
Richey encouraged everyone in the audience to attend the next planning commission meeting to share their frustrations.
The next meeting date for the Henry County Planning Commission was not available by presstime. The Courier-Times will publish the meeting date and time when it is announced.
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