WEST LEBANON, Ind. — On Monday night the Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals approved an exemption allowing development plans for Jordan Creek Wind Farm to progress in the county.
Some residents, like Burt Etchison, have vowed to appeal the decision, which, according to John Kuiper, director of Warren County Area Plan and Zoning Office, would have to occur in the next 30 days.
Etchison said in addition to concerns about property devaluation, the wind farm poses a safety threat to the community. Blades fly off with some regularity, he said, and who knows what or who they might hit.
According to Orion project developer Michael Cressner, such concerns are exaggerated and unfounded.
"Often there are claims of potential blade throw. … In the United States there has never been a fatality as a result of blade throw," Cressner said.
Windmills experience blade detachment, he added, usually due to weather conditions, but when this occurs the blade will drop directly to the ground at the base of the turbine. There are no "realistic conditions," Cressner said, that could facilitate a blade traveling up to 1,000 feet.
Although the threat of an appeal looms, Orion is advancing with the farm. The company plans to go forward with engineering surveys and scouting for wind turbine locations. After this concludes, the company will begin applying for building permits with the Area Plan and Zoning Office.
"We could begin construction as early as 2018," Cressner said, although he owned that's an optimistic estimate.
Steven Fellure said he is a Warren County resident in favor of the wind farm. There's a lot of opposition out there, he said, but it doesn't make sense to turn down a project that could bring jobs and added prosperity to the county.
"I think we have to be proactive to try and do things to help our local economy in our situation. Warren County is next to Tippecanoe County. … We’re kind of a bedroom community. We have a limited workforce that works in our county. The wind farm won’t be a tremendous amount of people to maintain it, but it will take a lot of people to build it," Fellure said.
For the years it takes to erect the wind farm, farm jobs and outside capital will flow into the county. He added that residents who have a turbine on their property will be compensated accordingly.
Kuiper said he couldn't remember an issue that has divided the county more, and there is no precedent for an appeals process.
The decision was challenging for everyone, he continued, especially the Board of Zoning Appeals, which was tasked with weighing the benefits and detriments of the enterprise.
"It was an emotional night. … People need to understand our BZA board members are appointed, they are not compensated, and they are making a decision for the entire county, so it was very difficult," Kuiper said.