Like the calm before the storm, rural Henry County resident Judy Walker and others are bracing themselves for big wind.
Walker, an outspoken opponent of wind turbine construction here, can see turbulent times ahead, even though all seems quiet on the northwestern Henry County front at the moment.
That’s why she and others have been watching Senate Bill 535 closely in the Indiana General Assembly.
Senate Bill 535, which would essentially limit a town’s ability to create buffer zones outside of its boundaries, was scheduled for second reading by the Indiana House of Representatives Thursday, but later taken off the agenda.
The bill is partially in response to small towns trying to protect residents from wind turbine development. In Henry County, 12 of the 16 incorporated towns have passed an ordinance creating a four-mile buffer zone prohibiting wind turbine construction.
The legislation now being considered would grandfather 11 Henry County towns. Middletown, which passed its buffer zone ordinance earlier this year, would have its law nullified by the current language in the bill.
But SB 535 would prohibit other towns in Indiana from following suit, basically on the premise that rural residents shouldn’t be subject to actions by town government representatives they can’t vote for in an election.
Walker said the best case scenario would be for SB 535 to die on the House floor.
“But that likely will not happen,” Walker told The Courier-Times. “We just hope that the amendment is not changed or removed and these towns are truly protected.”
Walker says despite the fact nothing wind related is on any agenda at the moment, that protection is needed.
According to Walker, Calpine came before the Henry County Commissioners on Nov. 14 “and at that time, proposed approximately 80 wind turbines in an area from Sulphur Springs to Cadiz to Kennard.” The agreements were officially approved Dec. 19.
“The distance from Sulphur to Kennard is 11.1 miles,” Walker said. “In all likelihood, the area would be approximately 4.5 miles wide. All of these towns voted unanimously to adopt this safety ordinance.”
Walker said the northwestern wind turbine plans are part of approximately 124 leases signed with Calpine/Big Blue River Holdings which encompass approximately 500 parcels and approximately 24,562 acres.
“In all,” Walker said, “roughly 109 families will control the future of Henry County with more than 39,133 committed acres the last we knew.”
State Rep. Tom Saunders said SB 535, which deals with much more than wind, may have more drama ahead.
Part of the amendments to the bill dealt with legal newspaper advertising charges. The bill’s author, State Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville), is a member and president of the board of directors of the Paper of Montgomery County.
“That may cause him a problem in the Senate,” Saunders said. “Ethically, he may have to recuse himself from the bill.”
Walker says no matter what happens in the legislature, Henry County citizens who have voted incumbents out of office over the wind issue will continue to fight.
“We have a Petition for Judicial Review in the Delaware County Court now which involves the companies in the southern part of the county,” Walker said. “Apex released their leases. Next Era is still here. The Armstrong family signed two solar leases with them in December.
“I do expect Calpine to move forward,” she concluded. “At what point, I do not know. Either way, I anticipate we will end up in court.”
Other bills to watch
In an interview with The Courier-Times, State Rep. Tom Saunders said these issues would be ones to watch as the Indiana General Assembly heads into the home stretch. Saunders said the legislature could complete its work by April 24. By law, it must be done by April 29.
n Joint prisons – HB1052, dealing with merged privatized prisons, is still on track, according to Saunders, good news for Henry and Madison counties, who have discussed teaming resources for a new joint facility.
n Teacher salary increases – Saunders said he was still working with others on that goal, but stressed the mandate of a balanced budget was complicating the issue. “Unfortunately, the people of Indiana last year voted for a balanced budget amendment and our current system has education money following the child,” Saunders said.
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