PERU — Miami County Commissioner Alan Hunt Monday said he did support the county’s current wind farm ordinance, which sets the guidelines for a proposed wind project that could bring about 75 turbines to the northern part of the county.
Hunt made his view known during a regular meeting of the Miami County Board of Commissioners, in which a group of residents spoke out against the proposal saying the project would mar the rural landscape and impede landowners near the turbines from building on their property.
The project is being proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company with its U.S. headquarters based in Colorado. The parameters for the wind farm would roughly run from 900 North to the Fulton County line, which encompasses about 36,000 acres.
The company is also considering building turbines in Cass and Fulton counties as part of the project.
Miami County’s current wind farm ordinance was approved by the county plan commission in 2011. Hunt at the time served on that commission and voted in favor of the ordinance.
But on Monday, Hunt expressed opposition to the ordinance he helped pass six years ago.
“Today, I do not agree with it,” he said. “That’s my position.”
In an interview after the meeting, Hunt said he supported the ordinance when he served on the plan commission based on the information he was given at the time.
He said he changed his mind after learning RES was proposing to build 600-foot turbines, which is larger than any other wind farm proposal received by the county.
Hunt said his biggest issue with the ordinance is the 1,000-foot setback of turbines from residential dwellings. Under that rule, landowners could not build a home within 1,000 feet of a turbine, even if the tower wasn’t on their property.
Becky Mahoney, who lives near Macy and owns land in the project area, told commissioners that was one of her main concerns, too.
“No one should be forced to surrender their property to an industrial wind developer,” she said. “This, gentleman, is a land grab.”
Hunt said he believes the setback rule should require turbines to be constructed about a quarter-mile from property lines — not residential dwellings — to avoid what he called a building “dead zone.”
But some residents called for the entire ordinance to be scrapped and rewritten.
Greg Deeds, a former county commissioner who works as a land surveyor, said he supported wind farms when he served on the board, but believes the ordinance is now outdated.
“I was all on board. I really was,” Deeds told commissioners. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is going to be a lot of tax revenue for the county and get farmers some money.’ I thought it would be a pretty good thing.”
“But it’s been seven years, and a lot of knowledge has been gained in the time this ordinance was written,” he said. “I couldn’t find any ordinance in the state that’s looser than ours is. I ask that this be reviewed, thought about and reconsidered.”
County Attorney Pat Roberts Monday said any changes to the ordinance would first have to be approved by the plan commission and then receive final approval from commissioners. He told those opposing the wind project to draft a proposal and bring it to the plan commission.
“Present what you think is correct and sell your ideas to them,” Roberts said. “Then the commissioners will review what they pass … and go about it in a legal and lawful manner.”
The next plan commission meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13. Wind farm opponents already have requested to speak at the meeting about changing the ordinance.
Commissioner Larry West told the crowd Monday he would not say whether he would vote for changes to the ordinance until he saw what those changes might be.
“I don’t know if there will be anything for us to even vote on, number one,” he said. “Number two, I don’t know what it might be. I’d have to see what they put in the ordinance.”
Commissioner Josh Francis has recused himself from any vote on the project, since he has contracted and is being paid by RES to develop lease agreements between property owners and the company.
Hunt said he plans to attend next week’s plan commission meeting. He said he would support the wind ordinance if the commission were to change the setback requirements and address other concerns raised by residents.
Hunt said his decision also would be influenced by the findings of a financial study approved by commissioners investigating the fiscal impact of the project.
Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said in a previous interview the company was aware of residents’ concerns over setbacks and would work with the county to address those concerns.
He said last month more than 50 square miles of land in northern Miami County have so far been secured through lease agreements with landowners to build turbines.