A standing-room-only crowd packed the Wayne County government chambers Monday night for an advisory committee meeting that ended with a recommendation to change county ordinances – at least temporarily – for wind farms.
More than 200 people were on hand for the Advisory Plan Commission public hearing, which lasted more than 2½ hours, at the county annex building. At least 20 people, most of whom supported the proposed ordinance change, spoke during the meeting. Several of those who spoke said they would be directly affected by wind farms that are being considered for Wayne County, unless existing ordinances are changed to make the permit process more rigorous.
The proposed change would likely table all wind farming permits until ordinances could be revisited and, more than likely, modernized by the commissioners. A Houston-based company, EDP Renewables North America LLC, is exploring installing 500- to 600-foot-tall wind turbines in certain areas within the county, particularly its northwest portion.
“I think what we saw tonight was a great example of how this community can come together and work toward making their (county) a better place,” said Roger Richert, a local business owner and a staunch opponent of industrial-grade wind turbines being permitted in the area. “You don’t see many things where people are so collectively vocal about what they want – or don’t want – for their city, for their community. This is definitely one of them where they came together to say what was on their mind.”
Richert said the turnout was much larger than what he had anticipated and he was hopeful that what those who spoke had to say, paired with the favorable vote for the ordinance change, would sway the commissioners during their Wednesday meeting on the topic.
That meeting, which is expected to start around 10:30 a.m. when the commissioners confer with Steve Higinbotham of the planning and zoning commission, will be open to the public, but it will not be a meeting dedicated for the public to voice their opinions on the matter.
Ken Paust, who leads both the advisory plan commission and the county commissioners, said after Monday night’s meeting that he was impressed by the turnout and was “hopeful both sides voiced all relevant concerns.”
“I think this meeting went really, really well and I think it’s the highest turnout we’ve had in (quite some time) here,” he said. “This was an issue that touches upon many living in parts of Wayne County and I think we were able to hear a variety of viewpoints tonight.”
Paust said he expects the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting will be much smaller, but will still have a majority of people who are opposed to wind turbines in Wayne County.
“There were a lot of people (in that camp) here tonight,” he said. “I think it’s going to be something we continue to hear about moving forward.”
Bill Weaver said he is completely opposed to wind farms in the county and would like to see a moratorium on the turbines.
“I don’t think we need them … I think they’re going to do more harm than good and they should not be allowed in the county at all,” he said. “I just don’t think they’re the right thing for our county.”
Jeffrey Nemeth, a project manager for EDP Renewables, did not speak in favor of or opposed to the proposed ordinance change, but he did address the plan commission near the end of the meeting and fielded a handful of questions from its members, including those pertaining to what would happen if the company were to gain a presence in Wayne County, then go bankrupt.
He told the commission and the audience that if such were to happen, EDP would be able to decommission the wind turbines properly and without fiscal burden on those whose property they occupy.
After the meeting, Nemeth told The Palladium-Item he was surprised by the number of people who were in attendance.
“It’s great to see the public involved in the process,” he said. “I think the county is going to listen to what everybody has to say and will make decisions (moving forward) based on that.”
Nemeth said while some who were in favor of wind turbines, and opposed to ordinance changes, did vocalize themselves during the meeting, he thinks there were many others in attendance who chose not to because of their surroundings. Many in the crowd wore T-shirts and other apparel that had anti-wind turbine imagery.
“I think many of them were very nervous about speaking in front of a large group of individuals,” he said. “My understanding is many of them are or will be reaching out to the commissioners on their own to voice their concerns over changing (the ordinances).”
He said he does not expect the ordinance changes, if they are sought by the commissioners following Wednesday’s meeting, to put a complete stop to the project, though it would create a more difficult situation for EDP.
“It’s basically a ban on wind farms until they have a chance to update this ordinance,” he said. “If they decide to go that route, then (what follows) will be a public process where there will be a lot of input on what changes are made to the ordinances.
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