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Sulphur Springs board takes action against wind farms

While the Henry County Planning Commission recently issued a “no recommendation” ruling on a revised ordinance governing wind farms, members of the Sulphur Springs Town Board had an emphatically different reaction Tuesday night.

The board unanimously passed on first reading its own wind ordinance, prohibiting any wind energy system within the jurisdiction of Sulphur Springs.

The action was just part of an effort to fight wind turbine activity in Henry County. At the suggestion of concerned citizens present during the meeting, the board also directed Town Attorney Jeremy Bell to contact Syracuse attorney Steve Snyder, who has been successful in getting setbacks changed and, in one case, helping an Indiana county ban commercial wind farms entirely.

According a Feb. 18, 2015 story in the Connersville News-Examiner, a sister paper to the The Courier-Times, Snyder argued in Marshall County that setback distances needed to be increased because of population density. A similar argument was made at the most recent Henry County Commissioners meeting.

Ultimately, the population density argument by Snyder led Marshall County Commissioners to ban wind farms entirely. The population density in Marshall County, according to the News-Examiner article, was 102 people per square mile. Earlier this month, District 1 Henry County Council candidate Kenon Gray told Commissioners the population density in Henry County is 124 persons per square mile.

The revised ordinance on wind energy conversion systems is expected to come up again at the next Henry County Commissioners meeting scheduled 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22.

“This is the most significant issue our county has faced in many, many years,” concerned citizen David Gratner said. “I have yet to meet a realtor who does not believe these things de-value your property significantly.”

While the town can control its own boundaries, a desire to create a two-mile “buffer zone” around it is “highly unlikely,” according to Bell.

Sulphur Springs’ ordinance may be largely symbolic, since, as Bell explained, Henry County now has a comprehensive plan and that plan puts these kinds of decisions in the hands of commissioners. Sulphur Springs could come up with its own comprehensive plan which might trump the wind ordinance commissioners are currently considering.

But that process, officials agreed, would cost thousands of dollars, money small towns like Sulphur Springs simply do not have.

Bell said the town could approach the commissioners and ask a buffer zone be included for Sulphur Springs.

“I think it would be highly unlikely for the town to reach an agreement with the County Commissioners to create that buffer zone,” Bell said.

Town Board member Don Swoveland said a two-mile buffer zone would also cross into neighboring Mt. Summit.

“I don’t think we have any business telling Mt. Summit what to do,” Swoveland said.

“I have no answers,” Town Board President William Dittlinger said.

But state statute just might, according to concerned citizen Judy Walker.

Walker distributed copies of Indiana code which said “a governmental unit may regulate conduct, or use, or possession of property, that might endanger the public health, safety or welfare.”

Walker’s handout also said a governmental unit “may impose restrictions upon persons…that might cause other persons…to be injured.”

Others in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting emphasized the presence of the Trans Canada pipeline in the Sulphur Springs area – site of a major explosion 25 years ago this November – and wondered if a falling blade from a wind turbine could recreate such an event.

Even if the turbines stay intact, one woman said their vibrations could affect water wells in the area.

“They scrub those blades with strong detergent,” Marsha Gratner said. “What if that detergent gets in our groundwater?”

Gratner said her anti-wind stance was not a slam against farmers who might profit from leasing or selling land for wind turbine use.

“I love our farmers,” she said. “I appreciate what they do. But we need to put the health and safety of everybody as our top priority.”