Cass County leaders are considering taking another look at the area’s regulations on commercial wind energy production.
The Cass County Plan Commission will vote at its meeting next month on whether to create a committee that will conduct research and consider possible changes to the county’s wind energy rules. Commission members present at their meeting Tuesday voted unanimously to include a vote on creating the committee on their October agenda.
Harvest Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, based in Bloomfield, Colorado, has been considering bringing wind turbines to Adams, Bethlehem, Harrison and Boone townships in northern Cass County.
Residents of those townships have been wanting to approach the plan commission about their concerns over the project and the county’s wind rules, but Tuesday was the commission’s first meeting since January. The commission has not had any business to consider since then and residents were unsuccessful in their attempts to have a discussion on wind rules placed on an agenda.
Several northern Cass County residents spoke during the public comments portion at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, reiterating concerns they’ve shared at other public meetings in the past. Those include a desire for rules to be backed by data rather than mirroring nearby counties’ regulations. They also feel setbacks should be greater and that the current ones are based on turbine heights much shorter than the towers being considered for the project in northern Cass County.
Krista Pullen, a plan commission member, raised the idea of taking another look at the rules during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m concerned there’s something we’re missing and I would like to propose that we put a committee together to look at this a little further,” Pullen said as attendees burst into applause.
Stacy Odom, also a plan commission member, later agreed with Pullen, calling wind energy an ever-changing industry and that local rules would ideally reflect that somehow.
“With the number of people that are concerned, I think it’s appropriate we do take a second look at it,” Odom added.
Arin Shaver, executive planning director for Cass County, explained at the meeting that if the committee is created, members would conduct research and present it to the plan commission. If the commission thinks considering changing the county’s wind energy rules is warranted, it would have to hold a public hearing. The commission could then vote to recommend any changes to the Cass County Commissioners, who have the final say.
The plan commission’s next meeting, during which members will vote on whether to create the committee, will be at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2 in the Commissioners Hearing Room on the second floor of the Cass County Government Building, 200 Court Park.
Deidra Dodt, Royal Center, encouraged plan commission members not to appoint anyone to the committee who stands to benefit from the proposed wind energy project, like those who have signed leases with Harvest Wind Energy along with those who have been offered employment with the company or previously worked for the company that RES bought the project from.
“Let’s make it a fair board, don’t stack the odds against people and remember that you’re here to serve the people of Cass County,” Dodt said.
Lora Redweik, Twelve Mile, who’s also advocated that the county’s wind energy rules be changed, said after Tuesday’s meeting that she felt justified and called the commission’s decision to consider a committee “a step in the right direction.”
“Finally somebody is listening,” she said.
Cass County’s current rules regulating commercial wind turbines require them to be at least 1,000 feet from residences and the length of a turbine blade from nonparticipating property lines.
A proposed contract between the county and Harvest Wind Energy indicates the project’s turbines would be at least 1,000 feet from nonparticipating property lines and 1,640 feet from residences. While a turbine model for the project has yet to be announced, RES has indicated in the past that they’d be between 500 to 670 feet tall.
Opponents of the project say a setback of 2,640 feet from nonparticipating property lines is necessary to preserve safety and quality of life. They also disagree with setbacks being measured to residences, as a turbine on a neighboring property could prevent a property owner from building a residence on their own property. A lawsuit calling that rule unconstitutional is currently being contested in Cass County Circuit Court.
A proposed agreement between the county and Harvest Wind Energy states no changes may be made to the county’s wind energy rules without prior consultation with the company. The agreement has yet to be signed. Cass County and Harvest Wind Energy officials have said the project is on hold.
Attendees of Tuesday’s meeting also raised concerns about the effects the project could potentially have on the U.S. Air National Guard 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne.
Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly reported last month that the fighter wing conducts training in Cass County four or five days a week and that the project could affect training airspace. Planes train down to an altitude of 500 feet, according to the article, which adds the Air National Guard is conducting an analysis to determine any impacts the proposed project would have.
Paige Woodhouse, Royal Center, said at Tuesday’s meeting that the plan commission’s lack of meetings since January is in violation of its bylaw stating it shall meet at least once a quarter.
When asked for a response after the meeting, Cass County Plan Commission President Jim Sailors agreed with Woodhouse’s citing of the bylaw but said no state statute requires the commission to meet that often.
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