NORWALK – State officials asked for an investigation and may force a restart of the approval process for a company seeking to build up to 70 wind turbines in Erie and Huron counties.
The calls came after state senators and House representatives reviewed a video posted by the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, a group that opposes wind turbines in Northwest Ohio. The video shows a woman being asked by sheriff’s deputies to leave a meeting that happened in November.
The opposition group contends Apex Energy improperly forced the woman, Deb Hay, to leave, contending she was being disruptive. But Hay, a resident of Thompson Township in Seneca County, says she wasn’t being disruptive, at all, and others who were there said the same thing.
The public information meeting at the Bronson Conservation Club in Norwalk is part of the required steps in the application process with the state that Apex must successfully complete before it gets a permit to move forward.
State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, and state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, joined two of their colleagues to send a letter Monday to the chairman of the Ohio Power Siting Board, the state agency with the final say on whether Apex gets a permit to build.
“After reviewing the video ourselves, we join our house colleagues in deep concern that the public has not been given a fair opportunity to express opposing viewpoints and the ‘public meetings’ are treated as little more than a formality by the wind project’s developers,” the letter states.
The senators called for a halt to the approval process for the Emerson Creek wind turbine project until a full investigation is conducted.
“I think all members of the public should have the opportunity to attend and be heard at a public meeting,” Gavarone said. “If someone was prevented from participating then I think another meeting is needed. No one should be shut out for their opinion.”
It’s yet to be determined whether there will have to be a re-do of the November meeting, said Matt Butler, a spokesman for the siting board. The meeting, he said, is “the developer’s opportunity to introduce the project to the public and solicit comments from the community.”
An Apex spokeswoman said the meeting was properly conducted.
“We followed the board’s process, they were there and didn’t express any disapproval,” said Apex public affairs manager Natasha Montague. Hay is “a member of the Seneca Anti-wind Union and doesn’t live in the Emerson Creek Project’s footprint,” she said.
But Hay and the anti-wind group are crying foul, contending Apex is strong-arming the process. She has the right to be there because she’s impacted by another project and has family in Huron County, they contend. In the video, a voice can be heard stating she was being monitored from the moment she walked in because of her opposition to other projects.
According to a Huron County Sheriff’s report, an Apex representative told deputies Hay was opposed to the wind farm and was gathering contact information from people at the event. Hay, however, contends she was talking to a couple she knew and stopped to mark down the location of a turbine.
“They know I’m not for the turbines, they know this, so that’s why they want me to leave. Are you going to discriminate against me because I’m not for the turbines?” Hay can be heard on the video telling the deputies.
The deputies can’t be heard in the video, but in a letter Hay wrote to her state senator, she said they were polite and explained that because it was a private venue Apex could ask her to leave or she could be charged with trespassing.
“These wind energy companies have been working in the dark of night in our counties for years. They finally have a public event required by the (board), and they chose a private venue where I was not welcome,” Hay wrote. “I believe that my experience is just one more example of the disregard wind developers show toward the people in their targeted communities.”
Montague said the lawmakers did not know the full story. She said Hay was being counterproductive to the purpose of the meeting, which was to allow Apex to provide information to the public.
“Seneca Anti-Wind had other people there who we allowed to stay and ask questions, but she was harassing land owners and yelling at people,” Montague said. “It was a meeting hosted for us to provide information to the public and not for her to pass out propaganda.”
Hay said that description is simply untrue. Two people at the meeting who spoke with the Register said they were with Hay and never heard her raise her voice or harass anyone. She did stand her ground, however, when confronted by an Apex employee, they said.
Hay said she only recalls speaking to people she knew and didn’t try to sign any one up.
“I was nothing, but polite … It’s one thing to make someone leave a public meeting and it’s another to malign their reputation,” Hay said. “My job is dependent on my reputation.”
*Editor’s note: This article has been modified since it was posted.
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