Recently completed road work in Posey and Fairview townships – the slated home for a portion of the West Fork Wind Energy Center project – was again a hot topic this week for Fayette County Commissioners.
Commissioner Frank Jackson found himself explaining both the recent road work, along with the economic development and tax abatement extensions granted by the county to NextEra Energy Resources, during Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting.
The recent road work in Posey and Fairview townships, in which the Fayette County Highway Department has bermed several gravel roads in that area, has had some residents questioning whether or not the county is actually improving the roadways for NextEra and the proposed West Fork Wind Energy Center project, instead of just improving the roadways for the residents in that area.
Several of the roadways which have been worked on are main routes to either slated wind turbine locations or operating facilities for the wind farm, per maps of the project.
Posey Township resident Cecil Bell approached commissioners Tuesday with his concerns and questions about the road work, along with questions of how the county could extend its economic development and tax abatement agreements with NextEra for the project, given those parties are in the midst of an ongoing civil suit with a group of Fayette County landowners who allege the decommissioning agreement between the county and NextEra – how the wind turbines would be taken down once the project reaches its life span, along with how that work would be paid for – is not valid and against the county’s zoning ordinances.
“In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten a message – from a pretty reliable source – that the wind turbines are coming to Fayette County. That’s a concern to me,” Bell told commissioners. “Also, there’s 100 acres north of my residence that I’ve been told is going to be the laydown area for the wind turbines. Also, after 20 years of trying to get our roads bermed in Fayette County, we seem to have enough money to do it now. I’m kind of curious where that money came from. Also, in the last meeting we were at, (NextEra) talked about the aquifer, and that they were going to run tests on the aquifer, and they said it wouldn’t be public knowledge. I’d like to know why it isn’t going to be public knowledge, because it’s going to concern all of us up there if they have to get into our water.
“And, I’d also like to know why the commissioners and the council could actually give NextEra a two-year extension on their contracts when there’s still a lawsuit going on,” Bell concluded.
Jackson responded to Bell’s concerns, beginning with the subject of the aquifer.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about as far as the aquifer,” he said. “I can tell you a little history. I was (Fayette County) Sheriff during 9/11. A short time after, there was a representative of the U.S. Geological Survey who came to my office and was talking about wellhead protection. At that time, he presented me a map where our aquifer runs. It basically runs either side of the river. It follows the river. In the northern part of the county, it’s roughly four to five-thousand feet on either side of the river. When you get down to the southern part, around Nulltown, it narrows down to 1,500, 2,000 feet.
“This is the first I’ve heard of the aquifer being tested. If it’s something a private company is doing … then it’s not subject to public disclosure unless it deals with some kind of a health issue, or something else that deals with the public welfare,” Jackson added. “It’s not anything we’ve been notified about at all … in all fairness, our responsibility were the three contracts – the road use, the decommissioning and the economic development. That doesn’t mean that we are kept in the know about everything they do, unless it’s something they need or want from us. They’re free to purchase or sell land without notifying us. There’s no requirement unless it’s county-owned property, or there’s some sort of right-of-way or something like that involved.”
Zachary Melda, project manager for the West Fork Wind Energy Center, told the News-Examiner Tuesday that NextEra is not, nor will not, test the Whitewater Valley aquifer for any reason as part of the proposed wind project.
“We won’t be testing any aquifers,” he said.
Jackson further addressed Bell’s concerns regarding the recent road work, in Posey and Fairview townships, conducted by the county’s highway department.
“As far as the roads, I don’t know how to say this other than to tell you that Richard (Corum, highway department superintendent) has a lot of autonomy. He told me about this when there was a problem, some of the landowners had stopped him and a couple of them had called him about why they were berming the roads. His comment to me was, ‘It’s just something that’s been neglected for 20 years,’” Jackson told Bell. “Now, I understand people that are against the windmills and I understand the coincidental nature of things being done, but there were no orders, no suggestions – direct or indirect, quietly, in writing, in person, by text or email – from anyone on this board instructing him to do that. It is simply that, a coincidence.
“I can’t prove what I’m telling you. It’s just that simple. I can’t. I can’t show you a phone call I didn’t make, an email I didn’t receive,” he continued. “All I can tell you is that it is coincidental.”
Jackson finished his response to Bell with an answer as to why the county extended its economic development and tax abatement agreements with NextEra, despite the ongoing civil suit the parties are embroiled in.
“You’re question is, why did we do it while there’s an ongoing lawsuit?” Jackson said. “It was presented to us. I’m not an attorney, but in fairness to our attorney, we didn’t confer with him about that. It was simply a matter of form. They wanted an extension. But that extension won’t nullify any decision the judge makes. Any decision we make is not going to overrule a judge’s decision … it doesn’t have anything to do with that judge’s decision. If what we did is part of the lawsuit that was brought about by the opposition to the windmills, then anything that we did, if the judge rules against that … it would just be null and void. If you have anything else, ask, because all I can do is tell you what I know.”
“I appreciate your guys’ time,” Bell said. “Like I said, the coincidence that’s going on is questionable to me. So I thought I’d come in and see what you guys had to say. Thank you for your time.”
In other business during Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved acceptance of a bid for 2017 with Johnson Controls, for $17,587, for the HVAC system in the county courthouse, annex and jail. That bid was roughly $3,000 lower than the other bidder, North Mechanicals.
Also approved was a contract for $11,482 with Barnhizer and Associates of Richmond to clean out the air vents at the Fayette County Jail, in order to help improve the air flow within the jail. The air flow was one area of concern for the jail, as noted in its recent jail inspection conducted by the Indiana Department of Corrections. The funds for that project were to be requested from the county’s cumulative capital fund, by commissioners, at Tuesday night’s Fayette County Council meeting.
Commissioners also approved the closure of the Fayette County Purdue Extension Office from Dec. 22 through Jan. 3, at the urging of Extension Director Cindy Hartman, who said there isn’t much business conducted by the office during that period.
Also approved by commissioners was an ordinance for a new speed zone at County Bridge 25 on County Road 300 North, which will see the speed reduced to 45 miles per hour from County Road 550 West east on County Road 300 North. In regards to County Bridge 25, commissioners also approved a contract between the county and Butler, Fairman and Seufert for $23,600 for an appraisal and acquisition of right of way for the upcoming work to be done on that bridge.
County Bridge 25 has been deemed historic by the federal government, given it was constructed in 1938 as part of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration program, and its repair is a federal bridge work project.
The county will pay 20 percent of the $23,600 contract it approved Tuesday – $4,720 – while the remaining 80 percent of the funds will come from the federal government. The overall cost of the bridge project has yet to be determined.
Commissioners also announced that they are seeking a replacement for the county’s Cemetery Commission as Dave Nichols, a member of the commission, submitted his resignation. Nichols and his wife, Cindy, have been involved for many years in the upkeep of the county’s roughly 110 pioneer cemeteries, along with having been members of the Cemetery Commission.
The couple were praised by commissioners for their passion and dedication in preserving the county’s pioneer cemeteries, with commissioners then adding that any interested parties wanting to join the commission should call 765-825-8987 and speak to Commissioner Leota King.
Finally, both Commissioner Jackson and his fellow commissioner, Zane Badore, were honored for their four years of service as county commissioners by Fayette County Council President Mike Wenta, Council Vice President Dale Strong and Councilmember Shirley Wise, who presented both men with plaques commemorating their service.
Both Jackson and Badore are wrapping up their four-year terms as county commissioners, with Commissioners-elect Gary Naylor and Mark Nobbe to take their seats at the first of the year.
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