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Opponents of turbines remain outspoken

Negotiations between Cass County and a company behind a proposed wind turbine project are expected to finish soon. But if Monday’s county commissioners meeting was any indication, opposition toward the plans is likely to last for a long time.

Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, out of Broomfield, Colorado, is pursuing bringing the commercial wind turbines to Boone, Harrison, Bethlehem and Adams townships in northern Cass County as well as across northern Miami County.

Royal Center resident Tim Minnick, pastor of Lucerne Zion United Methodist Church at 307 W. Ind. 16, said at Monday’s commissioners meeting that the shadows from the turbines would hinder his ability to minister.

“Me as pastor of that church, it’s going to affect me,” Minnick said. “It’s going to throw me off. It’s going to detract me from the word of God. That’s my biggest issue and I know it’s going to affect my parishioners.”

Wind turbine setbacks need to be at least a half-mile to nonparticipating property lines, he continued.

Cass County’s current wind turbine setback to nonparticipating property lines is the length of a turbine blade. RES has indicated its turbines would be 1.1 times turbine height from nonparticipating property lines. Turbine heights for the project have yet to be determined.

Bethlehem Township Trustee Margaret Hubenthal accused the commissioners of not having a conscience and not entirely believing in democracy.

“Shame on you,” Hubenthal said.

Deidra Dodt, Royal Center, said the proposed project does not align with the county’s mission statement, which reads, “To protect and serve the citizens of Cass County by implementing and facilitating good sound business practices while trying to develop economical growth in our county.”

“There is no good business practice when you sign a confidentiality agreement and hide it from the citizens that you’re supposed to be protecting,” Dodt said.

Opponents have repeatedly taken issue with the confidentiality agreement preventing the commissioners from publicly discussing the project in detail until negotiations conclude. But the concept may not be as uncommon as some think. Logansport city and utilities officials were under a similar agreement while negotiating a power purchase agreement in 2016.

Brad Lila, development director for RES Americas, said by phone Monday that negotiations between RES and Cass County should conclude “fairly soon.”

Dodt also told Cass County Commissioner Jeff LeDonne, who is running for reelection, that many residents do not feel protected by him and will keep that in mind when they head to the polls in the upcoming primary. Ryan Browning, who opposes the wind project, is running against LeDonne in the Republican primary.

Evan Criswell, Royal Center, asked who would be liable if aircraft crashed into the turbines, if roads during the construction phase become impassable and if cattle conception rates fall after the turbines go up. He also asked Cass County Economic Development Director Christy Householder how she could draw business to the county when residents are so divided over the proposed wind project.

Lila said by phone that roads may be temporarily closed when bringing in a particularly large piece of equipment but that he doesn’t expect them to be damaged to the point that they’d be impassable. He added there’s no evidence that wind turbines affect cattle conception rates and declined to address the question about aircraft.

Criswell went on to refer to RES’ request to the Federal Aviation Administration for aeronautical studies for turbines proposed in the project, which includes locations owned by landowners that are not participating.

RES has stated in the past that the FAA request is “not representative of the final design of the project” but considers “all possible project layouts” to provide “a better understanding of any constraints the project could face.”

Kyle Reed, Royal Center, referred to rules established by wind turbine manufacturers advising people to keep back distances ranging from about 1,312 to 1,640 feet in cases of fire and abnormal operating conditions. He added another advises keeping about 1,300 feet from turbines unless it’s necessary to be closer, regardless of operating conditions.

Vestas-American Wind Technology, Inc. has confirmed to the Pharos-Tribune in the past that it advises a radius of 1,640 feet under abnormal operating conditions.

Cass County requires turbines to be 1,000 feet from residences. RES has indicated its will be 1,500 feet from them.

Lora Redweik, Twelve Mile, said she’s learned RES is seeking interested landowners in Tipton County in the hopes that officials there will relax rules governing turbines in the future.

“That is patently false,” Lila said by phone. “We are not actively or passively looking to develop any wind project in Tipton County.”

Redweik added the work she said RES is doing in Tipton County has revealed turbines would be 820 feet tall. She and other opponents have voiced views that Cass County’s turbines would be taller than the 500-to-670-foot range RES has been indicating.

“I’ve stated on several occasions that we will not exceed wind turbines in excess of 675 feet and that still holds true,” Lila said.

RES has indicated in the past that its inventory for the project could be 4.2-megawatt turbines. Opponents often compare that to specifications indicating 4.2-megawatt turbines are far taller than the heights the company has been asserting.

But Lila said a 4.2-megawatt turbine doesn’t necessarily have to be taller than 675 feet.

James DeWitt, Royal Center, referred to a Purdue University study indicating wind turbines can kill birds and raptors that live hundreds of miles away from the project footprint.