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Stating their case at the Statehouse

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

“This has been a David and Goliath fight for three and a half years. It’s a David and Goliath fight today.”

So said Henry County Northern District Commissioner Ed Tarantino Thursday during an Indiana Senate committee meeting at the Statehouse.

Tarantino was joined by four others in sharing testimony before the Senate’s Local Government Committee on SB 535, a bill that would take the ability away from small towns to create four-mile anti-wind turbine buffer zones beyond their borders.

Tarantino was joined at the podium by Betsy Mills, Dan Fountain, Melissa Elmore and Kenon Gray in telling the committee why the proposed bill would be unfair to local communities who feel targeted and invaded by wind turbine companies.

Currently 13 of 16 Henry County towns have passed resolutions creating four-mile buffer zones around them where no wind turbines can be built.

But local residents who testified Thursday no doubt felt like simple shepherds as heavyweight organizations – including the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Association of Cities and Towns, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau – lined up supporting the bill that would make those buffer zones gone with the wind.

Authored by Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville), the bill’s central premise revolves around the ideathat small town boards are making decisions for people living outside those towns who have no opportunity to express their views at the ballot box. 

“It would be like Illinois saying to the people of Terre Haute, ‘you cannot do this,’” said Greg Ellis, vice-president of the Indiana Chamber.

But State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) told the Courier-Times Friday property rights should work both ways.

“Are they (wind turbine companies) not infringing on our property rights when they build these things?” Saunders said. “The voters of Henry County spoke loudly on this issue. They don’t want wind turbines here.”

Sen. Boots explained his bill this way:

“All this does is eliminate a non-elected individual from exercising powers outside their limits,” Boots said. “A city or a town is allowed to operate inside their corporate limits. Those trying to control areas outside their corporate limits and were not elected and cannot be elected by residents who live outside corporate limits should not be allowed to control that area.”

The bill deals with much more than wind turbine issues. It also impacts imminent domain, water and wildlife.

But the five county residents who spoke were each thoughtful, passionate and reasonable in their arguments to the committee.

“Gov. (Eric) Holcomb and Gov. (Mitch) Daniels have spent a great deal of time in the last decade emphasizing the importance of reversing the Brain Drain,” said Mills, who ran a strong race for District 3 County Council in last May’s primary, falling to eventual winner Peg Stefandel by just 32 votes. “We need to keep educated young people home to start businesses, raise their families and improve their communities. Because of the turbines currently slated to be built around my hometown, we cannot grow, we cannot annex. We are forever boxed in as turbines threaten to surround us on all sides.”

Dan Fountain, a Middletown Council member, said he was elected because of his anti-wind stance.

“The negative repercussions of this bill are endless,” Fountain said. “If SB 535 passes, these 600-foot tall turbines will blanket the countryside around the town I was elected to serve.”

Melissa Elmore, another local resident, told the committee that in spite of overwhelming votes in favor of anti-wind candidates, a new wind energy conversion ordinance was passed by County Commissioners one month after the election. She and others urged defeat of SB 535 – or at least amending it to allow communities that have already passed the buffer zone ordinance to be grandfathered in the legislation.

Recently-elected Henry County Council member Kenon Gray also testified, emphasizing that the anti-wind sentiment led to Henry County achieving the highest voter turnout in the state of Indiana – 64 percent – which he said was 12 points higher than the state average.

Gray also told the committee that population density issues should play a role in wind turbine location. He said Henry County has six times the density of Benton County, where many turbines are located, and 2.5 times the density of White County, another turbine-heavy location.

Quoting American business magnate Warren Buffett, Gray said wind turbines “make no monetary or energy sense.”

Tarantino, another candidate who was swept into office by anti-wind forces, called the buffer zone ordinances 13 communities have passed “our last line of defense.”

Tarantino said many other countries have started to back off this form of “green” energy.

“In Europe, the trend is backing off,” he said. “In Germany, they just passed setbacks over a mile. In Poland, they have now outlawed wind turbines and passed a law saying that in ten years, all existing wind turbines have to be removed. These people know something we haven’t learned yet in Indiana.”

Thursday’s committee hearing ended without a vote on the bill. Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo), who chairs the committee, said SB 535 would be discussed again at 9 a.m. next Thursday in Room 125 of the Statehouse.

A live video feed of that committee hearing is available by going to the Indiana General Assembly website and clicking on “committees.”