An effort to collect the 1,182 signatures needed to have voters decide on the future of wind energy in the county has angered wind farm opponents.
On May 5, Crawford County commissioners passed a resolution blocking wind farm development in all unincorporated areas of the county, effectively barring construction of Honey Creek Wind, Apex Clean Energy’s planned 300-megawatt industrial wind farm.
But under the terms of Senate Bill 52, which became law in July, wind farm supporters have 30 days to submit petitions forcing a November referendum vote on the issue, which could overturn the commissioners’ action.
“They’re going up to people and saying you can sign if you’re for or against,” explained Beth Swalley, a wind farm opponent who lives in Holmes Township and owns a farm in Lykens Township. “Which, I understand is technically true, but the problem being that they need to collect 1,182 signatures in order to get it on the ballot. If they coerce people that are against it to sign, which is what they’re trying to do, it will be easier for them to get to that 1,182.”
Julie Drennen, Apex’s public engagement manager in Ohio, said the company’s stance is that people should have a chance to vote on the issue.
“As were were working on Honey Creek Wind and up until the May 5 vote, many in the county had said, ”Well it should be put to a countywide vote.’ And that’s not saying anything about anyone’s opinion on wind; it is just saying we should have an opportunity, as a county on the whole, for the voters to weigh in on this issue,” she said.
Crawford Anti-Wind members: Don’t sign petitions
In a message sent to the Telegraph-Forum’s Facebook page, Roger and Kay Weisenauer, who have been active in Crawford Anti-Wind, discouraged people from signing the petitions. If the effort fails to get a referendum on the ballot, “we’ll be done with Apex wind,” they said in the message.
“Now, please get the word out also to keep your Crawford Anti-Wind signs up,” the message stated. “The battle is not over. We need to overwhelmingly show our strength and support. Together, we are protecting our county, neighbors and livelihood.”
The 30-day deadline to submit petitions falls on a weekend, so petitioners have until the following Monday, June 6. Petitions must be signed by 1,182 registered voters – that’s 8% of the 14,767 votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent governor election, Matt Crall, county prosecutor, explained at an April 23 public hearing on the issue.
A political action committee, Honey Creek Action, is funding the petition drive and has hired an outside group to collect signatures, Drennen explained, stressing that while Apex has contributed to the corporate-sponsored PAC and supports the action, it is not directly involved in the petition drive.
The petitions being circulated have been approved as meeting all legal requirements, and all signatures will be checked to ensure they’re valid, she said.
Tyler Fehrman part of Honey Creek Action
One of Honey Creek Action’s two current board members – a third will be added soon, Drennen said – is Tyler Fehrman, who’s also Apex’s field manager.
He stressed that in speaking about the petition drive, he was doing so as a representative of Honey Creek Action.
“We’ve seen quite a few of the folks who have been active in the Crawford Anti-Wind group, we see a lot of them saying, ‘Don’t sign the petitions whatever you do,’ ‘We don’t want this to go to a vote,’ and really, they’ve completely switched their messaging from what it’s been for the last several months,” Fehrman said. “They went to commissioners meetings, countless meetings, and said, ‘We want this to go to the ballot, this should be up to the people.’ And now that we’re trying to get that done, they’re saying the opposite.
“And truthfully, here’s where it gets confusing: This initiative that’s taking place right now to gather these signatures for these petitions, it truly is not for or against wind. We think that the voters of Crawford County should have an opportunity to choose whether or not they approve or oppose a wind project. In order to do that, it has to be placed on the ballot. And in order to be placed on the ballot, we have to gain signatures.
“So by signing a petition to get it on the ballot, you’re not saying, ‘I support wind energy.’ You’re saying, ‘I support the people’s right to have a voice.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Swalley said she believes signature collectors are misleading people, and particularly targeting the elderly. She wants people to understand that while technically wind opponents can sign the petitions, “you don’t want to help them get it on the ballot if you’re against it.”
“If they can honestly come up with enough pro-wind people to get it on the ballot, I don’t have a problem with it,” Swalley said. “My concern is that they’re misleading anti-wind people to sign this so that they can get it on the ballot.”
Petition drive ‘looks like it’s going very well’
Fehrman said the petition drive has been going “incredibly well.”
“We’ve had pretty encouraging response from folks in the community,” Fehrman said. “We have folks reaching out and asking when and where they can sign the petitions. In my opinion, as somebody who has run petition efforts and ballot access initiatives in the past, by all counts it looks like it’s going very well.”
People who want to sign the petition can visit honeycreekaction.org or text the word “VOTE” to 419-963-5042 and someone from the team will contact them about signing opportunities or arrange a meet-up time.
People also will be able to sign petitions during a biweekly coffee meet-up hosted by Apex at the Pelican Coffee House, 108 S. Sandusky Ave., from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, he said.
“It’s not a pro-wind petition,” Fehrman said. “It’s pro-ballot access and it’s pro-Crawford County residents having a voice in the vote.”
Drennen said she’s optimistic a ballot referendum would succeed in overturning the commissioners’ resolution.
“There are a lot of quiet supporters of wind in Crawford County,” she said, citing both response to a mailer sent out by the company after the vote and emails from supporters. “There is a significant contingent of positive but quiet supporters, and that feels good. I can’t put a number; I can’t speculate on that, but I think that if people are just looking at the vocal opposition, they’re not seeing the whole picture.
“I’ve seen the dialogue out there about these petitions and it’s been said by many, many people that this should be put to a vote. So if folks want to have a say and not just … let the decision be fully on the commissioners, then now’s the chance. They can say yes, I want to get this on the ballot, I want to have a vote.”
When asked if she thought a referendum vote would be successful, Swalley replied with an emphatic “No.”
“I don’t think so,” she added. “But the longer this stretches out – I mean this has just ruined the relationship between neighbors, communities – the sooner we can get this settled, the better. And if they can’t get the number of signatures, they’re gone.”
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