Wind farms were not on the agenda Thursday, but they still made for a blustery meeting of the Henry County Planning Commission.
The Henry County Planning Commission has announced it will conduct a public hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 in Bundy Auditorium regarding the commission approved use (CAU) permit request by Big Blue River Wind Farm.
Big Blue River Wind Farm LLC is owned by Calpine Energy.
The project itself is located in and around Harrison Township.
Henry County Planning Commission President Ed Yanos said the details of the July meeting are still being worked out.
“We intend to allow a lot of people to speak,” Yanos said.
While the specifics are still being formalized, Yanos expects there will probably be 2-3 minutes for each speaker, 5-10 minutes for lawyers representing groups of clients and at least one hour for opposition to the CAU request.
Yanos expects the agenda for that night will also include a couple of built-in breaks.
“I will be counting on everyone being civil, but we will have security in case someone isn’t,” he said.
The planning commission may have people register in advance for a chance to speak, but those details also had not been formalized as of Monday.
Additional studies requested
After handling scheduled business Thursday, planning commission member Kenon Gray asked for additional studies on the CAU request.
Gray cited the Henry County Development Code and the Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance in his proposal.
Gray pointed out the Development Code requires CAU applications and associate project to meet certain “minimum requirements” in regards to “public health, safety and general welfare.”
The WECS ordinance requires any wind farm project to include an escrow account that can be used “to obtain engineering, outside expert health and wildlife evaluations, economic impact, environmental impact, or other professional service to aid in the review of any submitted WECS application.”
Gray moved that the planning commission request the Henry County Commissioners to pay for “outside expert impact studies not already provided by the applicant to be paid out of the Escrow Account already received.”
Gray told the other planning commission members he had contact experts in the economic impact, property value impact and human health & safety impact of the Big Blue River Wind Farm CAU permit request.
Fellow planning commission member Dale Cole seconded the motion so the members could all have more information when making their decision.
After much discussion, the motion failed 2-6, with Gray and Cole being the only members to vote for it.
“I understood the comments from planning commissioner members to convey skepticism about the intent of the motion,” Yanos said. “I think several saw it as an attempt to delay and sidetrack beyond the July 23 hearing date, and I suspect that is one of the motives.”
Conflicts of Interest
Planning commission member Olene Veach recused herself Thursday from all discussion about the Big Blue River Wind Farm project.
Veach has a signed lease with the company and, therefore, a financial interest in the project.
The ethical question of a conflicts of interest is not restricted to financial gain or loss.
According Indiana Code 36-7-4-223(c), a plan commissioner member may not participate in a hearing or decision concerning a matter in which he/she has a conflict of interest “if the member is biased or prejudiced or otherwise unable to be impartial.”
As The Courier-Times has previously reported, Kenon Gray was elected to the Henry County Council on a platform that was partially in opposition of all industrial wind farm projects in Henry County. After being elected to the council, Gray was appointed to the Henry County Planning Commission.
According to the 2017, Indiana Citizen Planners Guide, conflicts of interest are intended to be “self-determined.”
Any planning commission member who believes they may have a conflict is advised to alert the local planning director or planning commission’s attorney as soon as possible.
The Planners Guide suggests planning commission members stay up to date on state law and local rules during regular ethics training.
“Don’t wait until there is a problem to address the issue!” the Guide states.
As of Monday, Kenon Gray had not filed a conflict of interest disclosure.
Yanos had no comment on any potential conflict Gray may have, other than to say the county’s legal counsel will likely weigh in on the issue.
“Ultimately, I believe the decision could be up to Mr. Gray whether to participate if he is advised not to,” Yanos said. “Calpine’s legal counsel could challenge his participation, but I don’t know who would rule on that.”
The only item of new business on the planning commission’s agenda was a request from Middletown resident Gary Joslin to rezone a parcel in the 8000 block of W. U.S. Hwy 36 from Rural Residential to General Business.
Joslin wants to offer automotive, truck and farm equipment sales and services on the rezoned property.
There was some discussion about increased traffic in the area. Joslin said the rezoning will actually help reduce traffic concerns.
The planning commission approved the rezone request unanimously.
The request will go to the Henry County Commissioners on June 26 for final approval.
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