The county moved to kill a wind farm project years after agreeing to support it by “fast-tracking” a zoning ordinance and changing the rules for building permits and tax incentives, the project’s developers claim in a federal lawsuit.
Sugar Creek Wind, LLC accuses the county and the board of commissioners of violating the agreements it signed in 2013 to develop an approximately 250-megawatt farm in Madison and Sugar Creek townships. The suit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Indianapolis and demands that the ordinances and resolutions enacted after the project started be rescinded and not apply to the company.
Under terms of the 2013 deal, Sugar Creek – a sister company of global energy firm Akuo – agreed to reimburse the county up to $1.2 million over 10 years, repair roads following the installation of wind turbines, protect the county’s drainage system and sign a decommissioning agreement outlining the steps to be taken if the project failed. The project subsequently received a 10-year property tax abatement.
Sugar Creek said it has spent millions of dollars securing land, completing environmental studies and reports, negotiating agreements for the supply, operation and maintenance of the farm and starting the financing process.
The county’s “political stance” on the project has since changed, the suit alleges. In September 2018, commissioners passed an ordinance changing the county’s procedure for building permits, requiring a project’s agreements to be less than two years old.
As a result, Sugar Creek claims, “this retroactive ordinance, if applied to the project as written, makes it impossible” to receive a permit.
Following approval of a second measure that would eliminate the project’s tax abatement, Sugar Creek threatened to sue the county in March over breach of agreement and due process violations.
That’s when Sugar Creek alleges the county “took the further step of immediately fast-tracking a new zoning ordinance in another attempt to destroy the project.”
Wind turbines and wind energy conversion systems were not listed in the ordinance, which restricts such projects to industrial districts requiring special approval from the board of zoning appeals, the suit claims.
“Through these actions, the county has purposefully singled out, targeted and discriminated against Sugar Creek,” the suit reads.
Sugar Creek said it tried unsuccessfully to mediate the dispute before the suit was filed.
The county has received the complaint and the commissioners have scheduled an executive session for 10:30 a.m. Monday in the South Boulevard County Building to discuss “strategy with respect to the initiation of litigation,” according to notice of the meeting.
“The commissioners intend to vigorously defend the claim,” county attorney Dan Taylor said, adding the board disagrees with the conclusions alleged by the company.
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