Plans for a second wind farm in Jay County can move forward.
But it was recommended that any other potential wind energy projects be banned for a period of three years.
During a meeting that came up just two minutes short of reaching the four-hour mark, Jay County Plan Commission on Thursday made two key decisions regarding wind energy:
•Scout Clean Energy’s plans for Bitter Ridge Wind Farm in Jefferson and Richland townships meet the county’s requirements and may move forward.
•Recommending to Jay County Commissioners that a moratorium be placed on any new wind energy projects to allow review and revision of the county’s wind ordinance that was first passed just over a decade ago.
The decision that Scout’s plans met the requirements set out by the county’s zoning ordinance came on a unanimous vote after extended testimony by both Scout and a group of local wind farm opponents as well as comments from the public and government officials. Attendance at the meeting, which was held the Jay County High School gym, approached 200, with more than two dozen sharing their opinions.
Plan commission’s decision on the Bitter Ridge project, proponents and opponents agreed, had to be based on whether or not the county’s ordinance had been followed, not on general approval or disapproval of wind turbines.
“Our job tonight is to either approve the application, that it is complete, done on time, everything was followed, or, no, the application is incomplete, it was not followed,” said plan commission member Ted Champ, clarifying the procedure.
Opponents of the project, represented by Syracuse attorney Steve Snyder and Jay County residents Kurt Boeckman, Mike Garringer and Chad Hirschy, argued that Scout had not met the requirements set out in Jay County’s ordinance.
Snyder said Scout’s paperwork did not meet the county’s requirements, focusing on a couple of points. He said topographic maps and wind turbine locations were not provided as specified in the ordinance.
He also argued that the project violates a zoning ordinance that limits structures in agricultural areas to a height of 100 feet.
However, Jay/Portland Building and Planning director John Hemmelgarn and county attorney Bill Hinkle disagreed with Snyder’s assessment on both counts.
They expressed the opinion that Scout’s application was complete and that its turbine siting plan was to the appropriate scale. They also said the section of the ordinance about height requirements allows for exceptions, including for wind farm projects.
During public comments there were 14 speaking in favor of the project and seven against, although several on both sides ceded their time because they had already made their feelings known during the discussion about the moratorium earlier in the meeting. (In all, 20 had signed up to speak against the project while 18 had signed up to speak in favor.)
Public comments in favor of the project focused on the economic benefits and production of clean energy.
All of the public officials who spoke – State Rep. Greg Beumer, county engineer Dan Watson, commissioners president Chuck Huffman and county council president Jeanne Houchins – were in favor of the project as well.
Those against the project reiterated feelings they have discussed at meetings for months regarding potential health problems, impact on property values and destruction of the rural aesthetic.
Several speakers were neutral on the project itself, but expressed concerns about the safety of those who work around the buried power lines associated with it.
Mike Timmerman, a longtime Jefferson Township resident, while speaking in favor of the project made one of the few comments that received applause from the bulk of those in attendance.
“I do have one concern – friends and neighbors becoming enemies,” he said. “Regardless of the outcome tonight, or whatever happens or doesn’t happen, I think we all need to agree to disagree, and friends and neighbors remain friends and neighbors.”
The approval by plan commission members Larry Temple, Brad Daniels, Matt Minnich, Scott Hilfiker, Shane Houck, Tom Laux, Steve Ford and Ted Champ came with one stipulation added – that construction begin no later than July 1, 2020, and be complete no later than Dec. 31, 2020. Those dates match what Jay County Commissioners stipulated in their economic development agreement with Scout.
Ford, who proposed the motion regarding the timeline, attempted to set two other stipulations as well, but ended up withdrawing both.
One would have required that specified amounts of economic development dollars related to the project be set aside for schools and parks. He withdrew that motion because currently there is no economic development money promised in connection with the project. (Scout had originally planned $1.5 million for that purpose, but that changed after its request for a tax abatement on the project was denied.) Instead, plan commission recommended that if any economic development funds become part of the project agreement, schools and parks be made the first priority.
Another stipulation proposed by Ford would have required that Scout appraise all properties in the approximately 10,000-acre area of the wind farm by the fall and guarantee home values. He withdrew that motion after Hinkle informed plan commission that such a requirement was attempted in Wells County and subsequently struck down by the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Scout’s Bitter Ridge Wind Farm project calls for the construction of 52 wind turbines in Jefferson and Richland townships, all to be sited south of county road 400 South and Indiana 67. Most will be east of Indiana 1.
Pete Endres of Scout outlined several voluntary conditions the company is placing on itself for the project in an effort to mitigate local concerns. Those include exceeding required setbacks by 50 percent to a distance of 1,500 feet, committing to a mitigation plan for those who have issues with television reception, making efforts to mitigate the effects of noise/lights and offering specialized training for local emergency medical service personnel and first responders.
The construction cost is estimated at $135 million for the farm that will produce 130 megawatts of power annually. About 200 jobs will be created during the construction phase, with two to four full-time jobs for operation of the wind farm.
Earlier this year accounting firm H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, working for the county, estimated that Scout would pay about $18 million in taxes over the 25-year life of the wind farm. It also estimated that the county’s assessed value would increase by about $40.5 million, thus reducing tax rates.
Scout estimates that 41 landowners who have signed leases for the project would be paid $13 million in rent over the lifetime of the project.
The lengthy public hearing on the Scout application followed a lengthy public hearing about a proposed three-year moratorium on the develop of wind farms in Jay County. (The moratorium does not impact Bitter Ridge because paperwork for the project was filed prior to the moratorium being put in place.)
There wasn’t much divide among the public on a moratorium, with nine of the 10 speakers offering their opinions in favor of taking a break from such projects to review the county’s ordinance. Those arguing in favor of the moratorium cited the property values, health and rural living issues, in addition to pointing out World Health Organization setback recommendations for wind turbines, changing technology and stricter regulations set by other counties. Art Buschur, a rural Pennville resident, asked that the issue be placed on the ballot in the form of a referendum.
Ed Nixon, a Jefferson Township resident, was the lone speaker against the moratorium saying he believes the current ordinance is adequate.
During discussion of the potential moratorium, Temple expressed concern that it could open the door to similar requests in regard to other forms of development. Daniels said he was OK with reviewing the ordinance given advances in science and other changes over the past decade-plus.
Houck asked if anyone had approached the building and planning department about additional wind farm development, and Hemmelgarn responded that no one has.
The vote on recommending the moratorium was split, with Daniels, Laux, Ford and Champ in favor while Temple, Minnich, Hilfiker and Houck voted against. As president of plan commission, Mike Leonhard broke the tie by voting in favor.
The issue of the moratorium now moves to Jay County Commissioners for their consideration of plan commission’s recommendation.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding