Calls from opponents of a proposed wind turbine project overlapped each other and filled the Cass County Commissioners Hearing Room on Tuesday as leaders ended the meeting.
Many of the meeting's attendees oppose a plan to bring turbines to Adams, Bethlehem, Boone and Harrison townships in northern Cass County. Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, is the company behind the plan and also wants to erect turbines in northern Miami County. Officials and residents who support the project say it will bring funds to the county and create jobs while providing money to landowners who lease ground for the turbines.
Cass County Commissioners President Jim Sailors once again set a two-minute individual limit for speakers during the time for public comments following Tuesday's meeting.
Joyce Pasel, who lives in northern Clay Township near its border with Bethlehem Township, asked commissioners to ensure the project wouldn't affect groundwater and asked how residents would be assisted if it does.
RES has indicated in the past that the project won't affect groundwater because the foundations for the turbines will be 9 feet deep.
Pasel was the second of two speakers Sailors cut off for exceeding the two-minute time limit. It spurred a negative vocal reaction from the audience and frustration over what several expressed has been a lack of response on the project from commissioners.
Sailors said more information will be released about the project as soon as agreements between the county and RES are signed, which sparked another outburst from the audience. At least one attendee indicated waiting until the contracts are signed would be "too late."
In an interview after the meeting, Sailors clarified the agreements will be made public after negotiations conclude and before they're signed. He said the time period between the conclusion of the negotiations and the signing would likely span between two commissioners meetings. The commissioners meet on the first and third Mondays of each month.
The commissioners adjourned the meeting during the exchange that sparked after Pasel was cut off, but remained in the room.
Calls of "crooked," accusations of lying and repeated pleas to discuss the project filled the room.
"There's no point in arguing about it," Sailors said. "That's what you want to do. No matter what we say, you want to argue about it."
As the audience's reaction died down, Pasel returned to the forefront of the conversation. She referred to RES as "a greedy, manipulative mega company" and emphasized the need for more information to be shared about the project.
"Maybe these turbines would be the best thing since sliced bread, we don't know that," she said. "You won't let us know that. Can you help alleviate our fears?"
Sailors and Cass County Commissioner Jeff LeDonne left the room after Pasel finished speaking. Opponents approached Cass County Commissioner Ralph Anderson and reiterated their concerns and desire for answers.
"And you deserve them," Anderson responded.
Anderson also said during the exchange that he has not signed a confidentiality agreement over the project negotiations, but Sailors said in an interview following the meeting that he signed one on behalf of all the commissioners. He went on to stress that the attorneys involved in the negotiations have not yet given officials approval to discuss the agreements in detail.
Cass County and RES are negotiating an economic development agreement, road use agreement and decommissioning agreement.
Earlier on in the public comments, Ken Smith, who lives in western Jefferson Township, questioned the reasons commissioners would have for wanting the turbines before Sailors cut him off for exceeding the two-minute time limit.
"If Cass County is in that short of supply of money that it is willing to risk the health, welfare and safety of rural residents, be it known that I am giving you permission to raise my taxes to live in Cass County," Smith said.
Deidra Dodt, Royal Center, said the petition calling for Cass County to increase its wind turbine setbacks to a half-mile from property lines has reached 1,625 signatures. Citing 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, she said the figure represents more than 54 percent of voting-age residents in the Cass County townships the project is proposed for.
Cass County's current property line setback for turbines is the length of a rotor blade and RES has indicated it will site turbines at least 1.1 times their height from nonparticipating property lines. The county's residential setback is 1,000 feet and RES has indicated its will be 1,500 feet for the project.
Kyle Reed, Royal Center, referred to a recent broadcast of "Talk of the Town," a local radio program, during which he said Sailors and Anderson indicated project opponents receive questionable information on wind turbines from Facebook. Reed went on to list the information opponents have given commissioners on the topic over the past several months.
"For you to claim on a radio show that we provided you with no facts is just another lie," Reed said. "...It's unfortunate for all of us that in this way you treat people you were elected to serve."