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Adding legal shield to fend off wind

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

SULPHUR SPRINGS — A David versus Goliath struggle over wind turbines took another turn Tuesday in Sulphur Springs when local residents sought to add a legal shield alongside their slingshot.

Town board members were presented a potential agreement with an attorney to protect the community if an anticipated wind turbine company development takes a next step, or even sues the community for blocking their efforts.

Local resident Judy Walker emphasized the attorney fees connected with the agreement would be completely funded without any town budget support. She said a war chest of sorts had already been established.

“We think we can guarantee all this being funded by donations,” Walker said.

Walker told town board members recent legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly – which grandfathered 11 Henry County towns that passed four-mile buffer zones prohibiting wind turbines – may be challenged in court or simply ignored by Calpine, the lone company still pursuing projects here.

“Our no-wind attorney, Steve Snyder, a qualified expert in this field, has agreed to represent the towns,” Walker explained. “He proposes to file an injunction when there is a hearing set to consider a commission-approved use. He may file a separate injunction for each town that retains him. He will then ask the court to consolidate the case under one cause action.”

Walker explained that the injunction would be a step to restrain a party from beginning an action threatening or invading the legal right of another. 

“A party that fails to comply with the injunction faces criminal or civil penalties and can also be charged with contempt of court,” Walker said. “This will be done if Calpine proceeds with their project ignoring the amendment in Senate Enrolled Act 535. If Calpine decides to challenge the four-mile ordinance without moving their project forward, basically the same procedure will be followed. They will then be the petitioner / plaintiff and the towns will be the defendants. Calpine will, in all likelihood, sue each town separately and Mr. Snyder will make the same request to consolidate the cases.”

Walker said it was imperative for the 11 towns involved – Sulphur Springs, Blountsville, Kennard, Mooreland, Cadiz, Mount Summit, Springport, Lewisville, Straughn, Greensboro and Shirley – to have Snyder’s legal expertise or all that occurred in the recent legislative session would, quite literally, be gone with the wind.

“Our State Representative Tom Saunders protected us on the state level,” Walker said, referring to Saunders’ efforts at grandfathering the 11 towns. “We need to be proactive to not waste what we were given.”

Middletown also passed the four-mile buffer-zone ordinance, but did so earlier this year, past the Jan. 1, 2019 date stipulated in the amendment.

“He (Saunders) had proposed the date of July 1, 2019 as the cutoff date which allowed all 12 towns that adopted the ordinance to be grandfathered in, but this date was changed to Jan. 1, 2019 despite objections,” Walker said.

In spite of the buffer zone ordinances and the legislative action, Walker told Sulphur Town Board members the wind issue is far from over. She reminded them that Henry County Commissioners approved agreements in December that moved Calpine’s project forward. 

“At that time, Calpine and the commissioners totally ignored the towns’ four-mile safety ordinances and moved forward with Calpine’s project,” Walker said. “Calpine stated they intended to erect 80 turbines from Sulphur Springs through Cadiz and Kennard. That project footprint may have changed. Calpine will have to file a location map when they apply for a permit.”

Walker said the prospect of wind turbines remains “the most important issue the towns face at this time.”

“Calpine cannot be allowed to proceed as they please,” she said. “In order to stop Calpine, the no-wind attorney needs to be retained. Please sign and return the retainer letter to ensure you will have representation in the matter.”

Dittlinger said he appreciated the effort, but wanted to take some time to discuss it before committing the town.

“We want to discuss this in a private setting and consult with our attorney,” Dittlinger said. “We can’t put the town in jeopardy.”

Walker said there has been no activity at the downtown New Castle office Calpine was using for quite some time. Meanwhile, the May meeting of the Henry County Planning Commission has been canceled.

“We have heard they (Calpine) might start in June at the next plan commission meeting,” she said.

No doubt the anti-wind forces around Henry County will be watching.