County officials need to be aware of perception

There’s been some fuss recently, among some of the local population, regarding a couple of recent decisions made – and actions taken – by the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.

And rightfully so, when you look at why the fuss has risen to the surface.

Within the past month, county commissioners – and county council – have approved extensions of the previously approved tax abatement and economic development agreements those parties have with NextEra Energy Resources, the company behind the proposed West Fork Wind Energy Center which would encompass parts of Fayette, Rush and Henry counties.

At any other time, without any other sticky situations ongoing, this wouldn’t be a big deal. Ok, so the company isn’t quite on track to begin its project – give it an extension. No problem, right?

That is, unless, a current ongoing civil suit about that very subject – the wind farm – is involved.

The county, along with NextEra, find themselves currently entangled in an ongoing civil suit with a group of Fayette County taxpayers who allege that a large portion of the agreement between the county and the wind farm – how the wind turbines in the West Fork project would be decommissioned – is not valid. A civil suit which still is awaiting a decision from a special Franklin County judge on whether it will proceed in the courts, or be dismissed.

A decision which could be coming at any day, mind you.

So why the rush by commissioners to push through the extension of the economic development agreement, and the council to push through the extension of the tax abatement agreement, before a decision in the civil case – which could have a major impact on the project as a whole – is made?

It could all simply be coincidence, sure. There’s nothing forbidding the county from extending agreements which it has already made. But the timing could have been a heck of a lot better, or at least it could have waited until: A. After the decision by Franklin Circuit Judge Clay Kellerman is made in the civil case, or B. After Rush County, which tabled a decision on approving NextEra’s special exception permit applications for that county’s portion of the project until next month, makes such a decision – which could, after all, affect the future of the project in that county along with Fayette and Henry.

Instead, those extensions have been pushed through and approved, and given many in the community the perception that county officials are not only cozy with a billion-dollar energy company, but beholden to them. That’s not a good perception for county officials to have when, after all, they are supposed to be beholden to the county’s taxpayers.

Something else not helping that perception some have of county officials is the recent roadwork done by the county’s highway department, on a slew of gravel roads in Posey and Fairview townships that – for many, many years – have hardly ever been touched.

Yet suddenly this fall – when the subject of wind farms became prominent again, whether through advertising, public open houses, appearances at county meetings or meetings with participating landowners – and after years and years of neglect, the highway department is widening the heck out of some roads up in that portion of the county. Widening them to the point that anyone could drive a semi-truck, with trailer, down them with plenty of room to spare.

It just so happens, too, that many of those roads being widened and worked on lead to either slated locations of wind turbines in the wind farm project, or needed facilities for the project, per maps of the project – which are available at the county courthouse from the Area Planning Commission office. Roads that, once the proposed project comes to fruition, will be heavily traveled by trucks hauling wind turbines and other equipment needed for the construction of the wind farm.

Sure, it could all simply be coincidence. And truthfully, there’s nothing forbidding the county from working on any county road it wants, at any time, and doing what it wants to do to those roads. It very well could be a genuine effort to improve the gravel roads of Posey and Fairview townships, after years of being forgotten.

But let’s be honest ... the timing could have been a heck of a lot better, because once again, the perception now exists that the county is beholden to a billion-dollar energy company, rather than its own taxpayers.

It’s definitely not a good perception to have, Fayette County – and county officials should be more cognizant of it in the future.


NOV 30 2016
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