Residents express concerns over setbacks, heights, decommissioning
The trend for Cass County Commissioners meetings lately continued Monday with a packed room and criticism voiced toward a proposed wind turbine project in the northern part of the county.
Dave Redweik, Twelve Mile, told commissioners that a petition calling for half-mile setbacks from property lines for industrial wind turbines is now up to 1,554 names.
Sara Craig, Twelve Mile, added that’s more than the population of Boone Township, one of the four Cass County townships considered for the project.
Boone Township’s population was 1,437 in 2016, according to the latest data from STATS Indiana.
Cass County’s property line setback is the length of a turbine blade while its residential setback is 1,000 feet. Renewable Energy Systems Americas out of Broomfield, Colorado, whose parent company is headquartered in England, has indicated property line setbacks for the project proposed in Cass and Miami counties will be 1.1 times turbine height and residential setbacks will be 1,500 feet.
Ruth Baker, Logansport, said she and her husband own property in Fulton County, which Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, was considering for its project before officials there banned wind turbines. Baker recalled attending a Fulton County Commissioners meeting last month held at 6 p.m., as opposed to the Cass County Commissioners’ meetings at 1 p.m. the first Monday of each month and 9 a.m. the third Monday of each month.
“It was a breath of fresh air to watch and observe the dialogue between the commissioners and the audience at that meeting,” Baker said of the Fulton County meeting. “Comments were made, people asked questions, responses were given in a civilized manner.”
Cass County Commissioners have yet to respond directly to public comments made about the wind turbine project at their meetings.
James DeWitt, Royal Center, pointed to comments made by Brad Lila, director of development for RES’ Minneapolis office, claiming Tipton County has not received any complaints about its wind turbines. He went on to provide copies of complaints filed in Tipton County concerning wind turbines claiming migraines, sleep disturbances, vertigo, shadow flicker, dogs barking more, animals refusing to go outside, an absence of wildlife, lack of phone and satellite TV service, damage to drain tile and roads not being reconstructed satisfactorily following turbine construction.
Lila said at a dinner RES hosted last month that when he asked Tipton County’s planning chief how many complaints he’d received about wind turbines, that the answer was none.
Steve Niblick, executive director of the Tipton County Plan Department, confirmed that by phone Monday, adding he’s been in the position almost two years.
Two of the complaints DeWitt provided at Monday’s commissioners meeting were dated 2013 while the other six were not dated.
Leslie Murray, Logansport, called Cass County’s wind energy ordinance outdated. When she attempted to share information from a report on wind turbine setbacks, Cass County Commissioners President Jim Sailors cut her off, indicating she had reached the two-minute time limit he set for comments before inviting attendees to the podium.
“You get two minutes,” Sailors said as the crowd objected to him cutting off Murray. “...That’s my rule.”
Before public comments began, Sailors also said the meeting would be adjourned at 1:40 p.m. A Cass County Drainage Board meeting was scheduled in the room at 1:45.
Bill Hook, who said he owns property in in the proposed wind turbine project area, echoed concerns about Cass County’s setback rules, particularly how they would not allow a landowner to build on their property if it was too close to a turbine on a neighboring property.
“No one person or company has the right to tell me or any member of my family what we can and cannot do on our own land,” he said. “...I don’t know how any of you guys could think that that’s acceptable.”
John L. Baker and Mike Gingerich, two Cass County landowners, have a lawsuit in Cass Circuit Court over that very issue. William Randall Cole was originally among the plaintiffs, but has since dismissed himself from the suit.
Kyle Reed, Royal Center, and Troy Eytcheson, Fulton, referred to Lila’s past comments about turbines for the project potentially being capable of producing 4.2 megawatts. Eytcheson then pointed to specs from wind turbine manufacturer Vestas’ 4.2-megawatt machines, which indicate about 241-foot blades and a tower nearly 820 feet tall with a maximum sound power of almost 105 decibels.
Lila has maintained RES has yet to choose a turbine for the project. Cass County’s wind energy ordinance requires decibels not to exceed 60 decibels measured from the nearest residence. RES has indicated its sound limit for turbines in the project will be 50 decibels measured from the nearest residence.
Brent Thomas, Twelve Mile, quoted billionaire Warren Buffet, who said in 2014 the only reason to build wind turbines is for the tax credits. Thomas also said a RES project in Canada is affecting groundwater.
The Chatham Voice in Chatham, Ontario, reported last month on a family who’s been without clean well water since wind turbine construction began near their home more than six months earlier. The article reported RES Canada is constructing the turbines for the project.
Lila has said the soil in the project area for Cass County will require foundations for the turbines of about 9 feet and won’t affect groundwater.
Thomas also said he didn’t like how RES hosted a private meeting last month to answer questions for public officials and project participants while county commissioners cite confidentiality agreements prevent them from discussing the project publicly.
Ryan Browning, Logansport, said Cass County Commissioner Jeff LeDonne told him a landowner signed onto the project who turned out not to have. Browning added LeDonne has yet to provide him with an explanation as to what made him make the claim.
LeDonne declined to comment on the matter after the meeting.
Lora Redweik expressed qualms over comments Lila recently made regarding a surety bond RES would get to ensure the project could be decommissioned if the proposed wind farm had to be abandoned. She described surety bonds as a kind of insurance policy with premiums that have to be paid regularly. Should RES or a company that buys the project go bankrupt and the premium has not been paid, then there’s no money for decommissioning, she continued.
Lila called that stance “not accurate” by phone Monday, adding while the decommissioning agreement between RES and Cass County is still being negotiated, surety bond premiums are typically paid up front.
Redweik also said the decommissioning agreement should require $500,000 per turbine in escrow with 3 percent added each year to account for price increases, figures Lila called “fictitious.”
RES and county officials will agree on a third-party engineering form to do an analysis to determine how much it would cost to decommission the project, Lila said, adding that amount would be revisited regularly throughout the future.