I am writing in response to the article, “No ‘home rule’ on wind farms?” Palladium-Item, Jan. 31. As stated in the opening sentence, wind farms are a polarizing topic, and that is why I felt it necessary to respond.
I am a lifelong resident of rural Clinton County. Two industrial wind companies have approached my county and are each seeking to build a wind farm near where I live. A comparison was made between Delaware/Wayne counties and Randolph County to illustrate how different counties approach the issue. For further comparison, Clinton County has roughly 33,000 people in a 405 square mile area. In comparison, Randolph County has roughly 7,000 fewer people in a geographic area that is 50 square miles larger than Clinton County. It was also mentioned that Randolph County has 100 turbines. According to just one company pursuing Clinton County, they are planning for about 200 turbines here. This means more turbines in a county with more people and less land area.
The points made regarding zoning are valid in some instances, but Clinton County is a little bit different in its approach. Our county commissioners have taken the authority away from our Board of Zoning Appeals and have given it to our Area Plan Commission (APC). This is contrary to every other county I have observed in Indiana. In essence, our ordinance creates a one-size-fits-all approach to wind development and does not take into consideration persons with disorders such as Meniere’s disease or those with sensory disorders. This approach is extremely dangerous and puts the burden on those who already live here, as opposed to the profit seeking companies.
This situation would not even be a problem under the theory where elected officials listen to their constituents. However, meetings have been held since May 2016 and many have expressed their concerns, but these concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Our APC decided on a 1,520 feet setback from a residence, contrary to the peer-reviewed studies from experts like Dr. Paul Schomer, suggesting that a safe distance is 3,000 feet or more. Further, in a county with 33,000 people, only approximately 40-50 Clinton County families have signed leases to support wind development. This fact leads me to the issue of a referendum.
My biggest objection to the article comes when the referendum proposal in HB 1597 is dismissed. I concede that there are challenges in defining the proper group of voters who would get to decide the issue, but this problem could be easily resolved. One solution would be to allow only voters in the affected townships to decide the issue.
Indiana provides for a referendum on issues such as tax increases to fund schools yet does not allow people to decide if they are to be subjected to health and safety issues and decreased property values from wind development for 30 years or more. Because wind issues vary from county to county and because they affect large numbers of people, allowing for a referendum keeps the issue local, but gives everyone a voice. This forces wind companies to win support from the whole community and not just from their leaseholders or a handful of elected officials. It also pressures planning committees to implement sufficient standards in their ordinances to make voters feel safe enough to support it.
While I have the utmost respect for those who run for office and serve their constituents, I think there are certain issues that would be better suited for a vote of the people. In my county, as in most rural counties, there are no acoustical engineers, medical doctors, or scientists serving who can make these decisions. Therefore, I find it difficult to leave such a decision in their hands, especially when they are relying on information from paid experts working for the wind companies. Furthermore, a referendum would take the pressure off commissioners, allowing them to focus on other issues.
A referendum essentially covers all of the other elements in the bill. A referendum makes logical sense, keeps the issue local, and should appease all sides.
Chris Vawter is an attorney working in Frankfort, the county seat for Clinton County.
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