NORWALK – The developers of a proposed local wind farm must re-do a public meeting as part of the approval process it must undergo before it gets a permit to build.
The Ohio Power Siting Board decided Thursday that Apex Clean Energy needed to host another public information meeting for its Emerson Creek Wind Project, which would see the construction of about 70 wind turbines in Erie and Huron counties.
The board has the power to approve or deny the application for the project. The Ohio Administrative Code requires the wind farm project to have at least one informational meeting open to the public to allow residents the chance to obtain information and provide written comments to the applicants.
The board’s administrative law Judge Jeffrey Jones wrote the removal of turbines in Seneca County and the alteration of associated facilities qualified as “substantial changes” since the public information meeting in November and warranted another meeting.
“Before the public meeting in November, we communicated with (the board) to ensure we followed all the board’s planning guidelines, and members of the board attended the meeting to ensure it complied with all requirements,” Apex public affairs manager Natasha Montague said. “Apex will host an additional public informational meeting that includes the changes to the turbine array since the meeting hosted in November.”
The decision follows concerns raised by state lawmakers after a video circulated of a woman, Deb Hay, of Seneca County, being allegedly forced to leave the meeting for being opposed to wind energy.
The video showed Hay being confronted and told to leave by two Huron County Sheriff’s deputies at the Bronson Conservation Club during the November meeting.
Hay said the deputies were polite and understanding, but they told her she could be charged with trespassing if she didn’t leave since it was at a private location rented by Apex.
Jones said the video provided of the incident appeared to corroborate Hay’s comments and directed Apex “to ensure that the additional public information meeting … is compliant with Ohio Administration Code and open to the public.”
Emerson Creek’s development manager, Nate Pedder, said Apex complied with the rules for a public meeting in a letter he submitted to the board before the decision.
“There were hundreds of community members who attended, learned about the project by asking the assorted experts and provided comments and thoughts,” he wrote to the siting board.
Pedder claimed everyone at the meeting was allowed to speak whether they supported or opposed the project as long as it was done respectfully.
“During the meeting, one individual was requested to leave the meeting,” Pedder wrote. “This individual was acting disruptively and in manner not conducive to allowing the other members of the public to attend the meeting comfortably and to learn about the project from the assorted experts.”
There’s nothing in the video, however, substantiating that claim, and Hay denies being disruptive, passing out pamphlets or trying to sign people up. She said she was only speaking to people she already knew and was doing so in a respectful manner. Two people at the meeting told the Register Hay behaved in a polite manner.
“I appreciate the board following the rules and regulations governing this process,” Hay said. “It seems it’s one thing for Apex to kick me out of their so-called public meeting, but it’s quite another for them to malign me in the local newspaper.”
The meeting will be hosted some time in April, but an exact location and date haven’t been decided, Montague said. Hay said unless a family emergency arises she plans to attend the new public hearing.
The additional public information meeting won’t delay the application process for Emerson Creek, board spokesman Matt Butler said. Apex said they’ve made themselves available to the public to ask questions and raise concerns and will continue to do so.
“We value feedback – whether positive or negative – from all community members. We always strive to create an environment for constructive discussion,” Montague said. “We remain open to meeting with all members of the community as we continue to gather feedback on the proposed project, and we look forward to continuing our work with the (community) as we move forward with the application process.”
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