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Commissioners talk wind farms

After listening to several months of debate about the positive and negative effects of wind turbine farms in Montgomery County, county commissioners took time during Monday’s meeting to address their thoughts. For the first time, commissioners voiced their differing opinions on what they can do to protect all landowners and how to change the present wind energy ordinance.

All three commissioners agree that the only way to change the existing ordinance is to change the allowable noise emitted from a wind turbine and setbacks from either a property line or residence.

Commissioner Phil Bane opened the discussion by again stating he has no intention of contracting to have wind turbines on his farm. He said he needed to defend himself from accusations that he was gaining financially on the final decision about wind turbines. Bane owns land in the Wingate area both personally and in a family corporation.

“I am defending myself from things that have been said about me,” Bane said. “I have no intention of signing up for a wind farm.”

Bane then continued his comments by talking about the debate centered around noise emitted from wind turbines. He said commissioners need to “be cautious” if the maximum noise levels are lowered. He said if commissioners decided on a low decibel such as 48 or lower, the decision could effect “other businesses.” He compared a 60 decibel limit to the noise of a grain dryer during harvest season.

Commissioner John Frey favors stricter stipulations to the existing ordinance. He prefers lowering the decibel rating to as low as 36, which industry experts say would eliminate wind turbines. He also said he believes commissioners need to protect non-participating landowners, those who do not want wind turbines from those who choose to participate. He believes the setback should be measured from the non-participating landowners’ property instead of measuring setbacks from a residence. Frey also would like to give non-participating landowners an option of “opting-out” of the new restrictions if they did not want to infringe on the rights of a participating neighbor.

Bane then voiced concern about the setback proposal because it would treat small tract owners and large acreage owners the same, which he thinks should not be the case. To address the concern, Frey suggest they could exempt residences on five acres or less.

Commissioner Jim Fulwider believes moving the decibel threshold to 36 was too extreme. He believes the threshold should be lower than the 60 decibel limit now in the county ordinance. He also said the timing for commissioners to make a final decision on revamping the existing ordinance needs to “be dialed in and the sooner the better.”

Commissioners decided to continue the discussion and possibly propose changes to the ordinance at their next meeting April 23, which will be in the Crawfordsville Common Council chamber due to early voting at the courthouse. The final recommendation on changes to the existing ordinance could be voted on at the May 14 meeting. However, Bane said due to a scheduling conflict the May 14 meeting may need to be changed and that any change would be announced at the next meeting.

After commissioners discontinued their discussion, several citizens spoke about the proposed changes to the ordinance, citing the reasons that have been previously discussed regarding setbacks, property rights, noise and health issues.