The Henry County Commissioners continued the process of reviewing the county’s Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance during a specially-called meeting Thursday night at the W.G. Smith Building in Memorial Park. It was the third such meeting held in recent weeks.
Commissioners Butch Baker, Kim Cronk and Ed Yanos were joined by concerned citizens Gary Rodgers and Rosalind Richey, who have helped lead the opposition to the development of “wind farms” in Henry County, and David Chambers and Amy Cornell. Chambers is a Harrison Township resident with an interest in placing an industrial wind turbine on his property and Cornell is an attorney representing a group of southern Henry County residents also in favor of wind farm development.
The group spent nearly three hours going over the county’s current WECS ordinance, which is nearly 20 printed pages long, line by line, in an effort to find areas where the two sides agree, disagree and to identify those areas where the two sides can compromise. When it was all said and done, a great deal of disagreement remained.
Commissioner Cronk noted the current WECS ordinance dates back to 2009 and that since then, new information about the effect large wind turbines have on nearby property owners has come to light.
“We’re reviewing the turbine ordinance to see if there are any changes or enhancements that need to be done to the ordinance to bring us up to date to the new standards that have been put into place,” Cronk said. “There’s many many varied opinions, and we know that, and it’s difficult to do.”
Chambers and Cornell made it clear they favor leaving the current WECS ordinance as is.
Rodgers and Richey, on the other hand, expressed concerns about a myriad of issues including the noise the turbines make, setback distances and how they are measured, whether or not public hearings should be required for turbine related requests, damage to local roads and drainage infrastructure during the construction process, wind farm impact on nearby property values, light pollution from turbine beacons, training for area fire departments, and more.
Just a few minutes into the process, Cornell took exception to language in the ordinance regarding the measurement of low frequency sound said to be created by the turbines.
“Industry literature shows that low-frequency noise is not an issue for wind farms and anything that low is usually naturally occurring, such as the wind itself,” Cornell said.
“I would contend that last statement is patently false,” Rodgers said. “It is a lie, a lie, a lie! The big issue that we’re worried about is low frequency noise, because that’s what’s causing a lot of the problems in places where industrial wind turbines have been put into place.”
That exchange helped set the tone for the remainder of the meeting.
Protecting the safety, health and well being of Henry County residents was a frequent theme expressed by Rodgers and Richey.
After approximately an hour of continued ordinance review, Rodgers and Richey pointed out they have been making suggestions regarding changes needed to the ordinance, but have not been getting feedback or counterproposals from the pro wind side. Cornell said she and her clients don’t want the ordinance changed, so the responsibility for justifying any changes is on those who want changes made.
The process continued, with Rodgers and Richey suggesting the commissioners look at data from various sources that shows there are problems associated with industrial wind turbines when they are located in close proximity to people.
“You are obligated, as officials of the county, to protect the health and safety and general welfare of the people of Henry County,” Richey said.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting many areas of disagreement remained, though Cronk shared his belief it was productive.
“We were able to continue the process of receiving input from both sides to see if we could come up with any further agreements, which we did some,” Cronk said. “We’re at the point now where we know the areas where there are disagreements. We, the commissioners, can now research even further and try to come up with an agreement regarding any changes to the ordinance or if we don’t want to make changes to the ordinance.”
Any changes proposed will be reviewed by the county attorney and an attorney employed by the county who specializes in this area. After any proposed changes have been cleared by the attorneys the amended ordinance will be forwarded to the Henry County Planning Commission, which will have the option of approving proposed changes, opposing proposed changes, or not acting on the measure.
Ultimately, it is the commissioners’ responsibility to make any changes to the WECS ordinance they feel are in the best interest of the citizens of Henry County.
Cronk said he is hopeful any revisions made to the ordinance will have been reviewed and approved by the county’s legal team by December, but said it will more likely be January or February before the process reaches that point.