The subject of the proposed West Fork Wind Energy Center, which is never far from the minds of local residents and county government, again reared its head this week.
This time, however, it wasn’t setback distance, contracts or lawsuits which were discussed, but rather a question of whether the project itself could possibly have a negative impact on an area aquifer.
That was the concern raised by three local residents – Joe Schultz, Craig Mosburg and Cecil Bell – Tuesday morning during the regularly-scheduled Fayette County Commissioners meeting, with their concerns revolving around the New Castle Till Aquifer, of which part is located in northwestern Fayette County and the very area slated for a portion of the West Fork Wind Energy Center project by NextEra Energy Resources.
“In the past several years, we’ve come before this board to express our concerns about the possibly construction of a commercial wind farm in Fairview and Posey townships of Fayette County,” Schultz told commissioners. “What we’re going to discuss today is causing us more concern than any subject in the past several years. We are here today to bring before the commissioners information concerning the New Castle Till Aquifer, located in Posey, Fairview and parts of other Fayette County townships.”
The group presented maps to commissioners for their viewing, highlighting the portion of the aquifer in Fayette County, along with push pins marking where the wind turbines for the proposed West Fork project would be located. The majority of the slated spots for the wind turbines are in the aquifer area.
Schultz added that the group has spent the past few weeks compiling the presentation it gave Tuesday.
“In the past several weeks, we have talked to representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana DNR and IDEM,” Schultz continued. “We are concerned about the possibility of the ‘New Castle Till Aquifer,’ ... at risk of contamination by the construction of a Commercial Wind Farm in northwestern Fayette County.
“All of the representatives of the Federal and State agencies we have talked to so far have indicated to us they feel that the greatest risk to this aquifer is contamination by diesel fuel, hydraulic fluid, other onsite chemicals or lubricants,” he added. “Also, surface water runoff into open pit construction sites is a major concern and a possible source of contamination ... we were shocked to learn that no studies or special permits were needed to construct wind turbines on top of this aquifer.”
Schultz went on to cite how, of all the research studies submitted in August 2015 to the Fayette County Area Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, by NextEra, as part of their special exception application for construction of the wind turbines in the project, not a single study tackled the potential impact of wind turbines on water aquifers.
“These were good studies that were done. They needed to be done. But when you read through this, you look at it and you think, what’s missing?” Schultz said. “There’s no studies on this aquifer that were done. Nothing. No placement of a commercial wind farm over a shallow water aquifer, possible wetland disturbance during a construction phase, no water quality issues. It’s like the aquifer doesn’t even exist. It wasn’t even mentioned in this.
“If this aquifer would happen to be contaminated somehow, it would be devastating to the Posey and Fairview Township area,” he added. “People wouldn’t be able to use their wells. Farmers couldn’t water their livestock. It could take weeks, months or possibly years for this aquifer to become drinkable again. No one knows exactly what would happen. It could be a very serious problem for a lot of people.”
Schultz then quoted information he received from Shawn Naylor with the Indiana Geological Survey at Indiana University, regarding the aquifer.
“Aquifer sensitivity in Fayette County was addressed in a Dept. of Natural Resources report titled ‘The Hydrogeology of Fayette County, Indiana.’ The author identifies areas with valley train sand and gravel and ice contact deposits as being most susceptible to groundwater contamination and these glacial materials are present in northwestern Fayette County within the proposed wind farm area,” Schultz quoted Naylor as stating. “There are several wetlands in your area of concern as indicated by the National Wetland Inventory ... I presume that if any wetlands will be disturbed during construction activities that the appropriate Clean Water Act Section 404 permits have been obtained.”
Mosburg then spoke, giving commissioners statistics regarding the wind turbines, such as weight, liquids and lubrication which would be used in the construction, and how far down digging would go, along with the depth of several water wells in the affected area.
Schultz and the group urged those in the community who live in the area of the proposed wind project to have their well water tested before construction of the wind turbines commences – if it does – to establish a baseline for water quality in case the aquifer were to be contaminated.
Additionally, Schultz commented, comments made by a previous commissioner, Frank Jackson, illustrate just how serious the subject of a contaminated water supply is. At a December 2016 meeting, Jackson spoke of how when he was Fayette County Sheriff after 9/11, the U.S. Geological Survey spoke to him about well head protection.
“It shows how important these aquifers are to our lives. So important that well head protection for the aquifer that supplies Connersville with its drinking water was discussed after the terrorist attack on our nation with the Fayette County Sheriff,” he said.
Other comments, made by Zachary Melda, project manager for the West Fork project, concerned the group. Melda told the News-Examiner, in December 2016, that NextEra would not be testing any aquifers as part of the West Fork Wind Energy Center project.
“What we are asking for today from the Fayette County Commissioners is cooperation,” Schultz concluded. “We pray it never happens, but if this aquifer is somehow contaminated or damaged by the possible future construction of a commercial wind farm, who is going to assume responsibility? Who reimburses the homeowners and farmers and residents affected by the contamination of the New Castle Aquifer?” We feel this is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, and not only by Fayette County, but Rush and Henry counties also.”
Fayette County Commissioner Gary Naylor thanked the group for the information.
“I, for one, appreciate the information,” he said. “And thank you, Mr. Mosburg, for sending it to me and keeping me updated. I read every email.”