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Commissioners unanimously favor revised wind ordinance

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Many in the crowd of more than 100 people held up signs of protest immediately after the Henry County Commissioners’ 3-0 vote Wednesday night approving a revised wind ordinance.
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Many in the crowd of more than 100 people held up signs of protest immediately after the Henry County Commissioners' 3-0 vote Wednesday night approving a revised wind ordinance.

By DARREL RADFORD

dradford@thecouriertimes.com

“Total disappointment.”

“Devastation.”

“Tyranny.”

Those were among the reactions from a large group of Henry County residents Wednesday night after the Henry County Commissioners voted unanimously to put a revised wind ordinance in place. The revisions, which Commissioners said were far more restrictive than the one it replaces, didn’t go nearly far enough for the more than 100 protesters, many of whom held up signs with the word “Shame” in bright red letters after the vote.

The action came after one final 30-minute gust of anti-wind sentiment the Commissioners allowed during a public comment section of the meeting, held in the old Circuit Courtroom of the Henry County Courthouse. A total of 17 speakers went to the microphone during that period – 16 of them strongly against the revisions to the ordinance.

Explaining their votes

Commissioners said the alternative – leaving the old ordinance in place – was worse.

“In my opinion, it was less restrictive and does less to address the concerns that were raised – not to mention the fact it is still somewhere in the legal system in Delaware County,” Commissioner Ed Yanos said of the old wind ordinance. “We don’t know what the outcome of that is going to be. The old ordinance gave an easier road to build in Henry County than this one.”

Commissioner Kim Cronk agreed, saying what was passed Wednesday is better “by a long shot.”

“This was an effort to be fair to everybody on both sides,” Cronk said. “The setbacks are greater than 1,500 feet. They also have to be 700 feet from any road. They have to be 750 feet from a power line. There are other factors that come into play besides the distance from property lines. And they can’t be any closer than 1,500 feet from any house.”

Commissioner Butch Baker indicated Wednesday’s decision was not made impulsively, selfishly or lightly.

“The Commissioners have spoken with countless residents of the county and other residents regarding WECS,” Baker said. “We have received thousands of pages of written materials on WECS. In short, it is my belief that we have provided ample opportunity for input and study before proposing revisions to the county code.”

Push-back on setbacks

Disagreements and misunderstandings about setbacks have fueled a large part of the wind turbine ordinance controversy.

A setback, in terms of industrial wind turbines, is the minimum distance that the structure must be away from buildings, roads, schools, neighbors, etc.

In the proposal that the Henry County Commissioners drafted and sent to the Henry County Planning Commission, commercial wind turbines have to be a minimum of 1,500 feet from “the nearest edge of the primary building/structure.”

But time and again, protesters said the setbacks should be measured from the from property lines, not from the foundations of homes.

Vernon Sharrett, a Cadiz resident, said the Commissioners’ action was akin to tyranny.

“You’re stealing the value of my property from me. If this was several hundred years ago, the nature of the uprising you see would be vastly different. We’re here peaceably. We ask you to please, do not oppress this county with tyranny.”

Local businessman Gary Rodgers criticized the ordinance not only for its “grammatical errors” but also for “creating permanent easements on every rural property in Henry County.”

Rodgers went on to urge rural property owners to file objections at the next assessment period and have it reduced because of the wind ordinance-created easements.

“This is the most single devastating ordinance that I can imagine for Henry County,” Rodgers said. “And it will be your legacy. And you will be the three most hated men in the county.”

Health issues like vertigo and insomnia allegedly created by the constant turning of the turbines and the sound they make have also been raised.

Prairie Township resident Wayne Foster warned of fire hazards with the turbines he said have happened before.

Jefferson Township resident Franki Zile said her family suffered the loss of a potential sale of a home due to the possibility of wind turbines. She said after visits to Randolph, Tipton and Madison counties, the problems became real to her.

“There were more complaints than just ‘it doesn’t look nice,’” Zile said. “There was a young girl who couldn’t do her homework because of the shadow flicker. There was another lady who had issues with migraines. There were people in Randolph County who complained about the sound, who had to have porches built on their homes to block it. This is not made up.”

“I also questioned how you can measure setbacks from a moving target,” Zile added. “When those blades are rotated, that changes your setback. In actuality, part of the time, we’re going to have setbacks of less than 1,500 feet, depending on the direction those blades are pointed. I also question how you can have zoning prohibiting wind turbines from the edge of town, yet it’s measured from my foundation. Why do people who live on the edge of town have more rights than I do?”

Rural landscape

Stoney Creek Township resident Phil Gibson said the rural landscape would be forever changed. His comments were preceded by the sound of a cricket chirping from a cell phone.

“I just heard a cricket,” Gibson said. “One of the things that you won’t hear in a field with industrial wind turbines is crickets. Why? Because of the noise level. We have to be very careful with that noise level. We have to be very careful with that setback. We have to be very careful with where we position these so-called wonderful turbines. This thing is greed driven. That’s the only thing that drives this – money.”

But making money as a farmer – with all the uncertainties revolving around weather, world politics and volatile markets – is difficult at best. That’s why the one speaker who didn’t oppose wind turbines – Harrison Township farmer David Chambers – said he didn’t view the site of wind turbines as a negative.

“If I were looking at a piece of property that had a wind turbine on it, I would see that as a positive myself, because I would see that there’s income.”

Culmination and determination

Wednesday’s action culminated a whirlwind of meetings and debate concerning the revised ordinance.

Commissioners unanimously passed the revisions June 13, citing at least 19 things residents had complained about that had been changed. That action sent it to the Henry County Planning Commission, where an Aug. 7 public hearing lasted nearly four hours and resulted in a “no recommendation” response. That placed the issue back into Commissioner hands Wednesday night.

The meeting brought different generations together with the same concerns.

Senior citizen Judy Walker said she had “total, total disappointment” in the Commissioners’ action.

“I was told years ago to attend a meeting every now and then, and I kind of pooh-poohed the idea,” she said. “Now I see I should have been more interested, because they did not do what I thought they would do. Not only in this, but in several things.”

Betsy Mills shared that disappointment.

“As a young person who wants to see my community thrive, I’m disappointed and I worry that this will impact economic development,” she said. “I worry that this will impact young people moving to Henry County to build homes and raise their families and start their businesses. And I’m disappointed there wasn’t more compromise – especially with setbacks. It didn’t have to be an outright ban but more restrictive setbacks. It is more restrictive than the first ordinance, but in my mind, it didn’t go far enough.”

Afterward, many vowed the fight will continue, even if the issue is settled for now.

“It’s not over,” Bobbi Plummer said. “It’s not over until a turbine is built. The fight’s not over.”

For the first time during this debate – and perhaps any public meeting in recent memory – Wednesday’s meeting featured a person giving sign language interpretation. Marie Kellam made the rapid hand motions standing just behind the seated Commissioners in the place where judges of yesteryear sat during so many Circuit Court proceedings.

Sad irony?

One resident in attendance, David Gratner, found a sad irony in her appearance Wednesday.

“No offense to the people who aren’t able to hear, but I think it’s appropriate this lady’s here today, because I feel like everything that’s been said has fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

Note: The story was edited to correct a quote that should have originally been attributed to Betsy Mills.