Stricter turbine setbacks to take effect next week after chaotic commissioner's meeting
PERU – A controversial proposed wind project in Miami County is on hold and could be dead after county commissioners Monday said a new wind ordinance requiring a 2,000-foot setback of turbines from property lines would take effect next week.
The Miami County Planning and Building Commission in April approved the revised ordinance in response to a proposed wind project by RES, an international renewable energy company, which would bring around 75 turbines to the northern part of the county.
Commissioners then had the option to vote on the new ordinance or wait 90 days without taking action, after which the ordinance would become law by default.
On Monday, Commissioner Larry West called for a vote on the ordinance. What followed was a raucous, chaotic meeting in which West expelled a woman from the room after residents accused him of lying, dishonesty and “crooked politics.”
West voted against the revised ordinance. Commissioner Alan Hunt voted in favor of it. Commissioner Josh Francis was not at the meeting, but had recused himself from any vote on the wind farm since he was contracted by RES to develop lease agreements with landowners.
County Attorney Pat Roberts said in a previous meeting a tie vote would mean the ordinance would fall back to the plan commission vote and become law.
But West said he talked to another attorney who said it was unclear what would happen to the ordinance in the event of a tie, and the issue was still unresolved. That brought shouts and criticism from the anti-wind crowd who packed the meeting.
Jerilyn Lowe, an anti-wind resident who lives in the area of the proposed wind project, said West should have found the answer to what a tie vote meant in the last three months since the plan commission approved the revised ordinance.
“Why would you not make sure that you knew what a tie vote would mean before you brought this up again?” she asked through tears. “That is not fair to the people you serve … Why would you put this group of people and the people of this county under this stress? Why? You had every opportunity to come in here to know what this vote meant before you ever brought it up, and that is wrong.”
West said the time it took for attorneys to interpret state code regarding voting procedure wasn’t up to him.
However, Roberts arrived at the meeting from a court appearance and confirmed that, in his opinion, a tie vote means the ordinance becomes law.
Residents also protested Monday’s vote since West in April tabled a vote on the revised ordinance. On Monday, commissioners didn’t vote on whether to take the motion off the table, raising the question of whether the vote on the ordinance was valid.
Roberts advised the commissioners to just vote to take it off the table and then recast their vote on the ordinance.
“It’s just so simple,” he said. “Take it off the table, do your tie vote … and it becomes law at the end of the passage of time.”
But Hunt refused to take a vote on whether to take the motion off the table. He indicated he had planned to simply let the 90 days expire and let the ordinance become code by default.
However, West said, the legal process on the vote was a moot point since RES had told commissioners the wind project wasn’t moving forward in the county.
In an email, the company confirmed it elected not to sign road and economic-development agreements with the county due to technical challenges associated with interconnecting the project with the electric grid. The company said that meant the project was on hold.
But, West said, without the agreements, the project can’t move forward.
“The project is dead, which I’m sure pleases most of you,” he told the crowd.
West said at a previous meeting a 2,000-foot setback would also kill the project. Now, because of Monday’s tie vote, those setbacks will become county code on July 10.
West drew heavy pushback from residents during the meeting, who accused him of lying and dishonesty regarding the wind project. Resident Elaine Anderson accused him of “crooked politics,” along with other county elected officials, and vowed to vote him out of office.
West said it was out of line to make personal attacks against him or other elected officials, and expelled her from the meeting after she again tried to speak. Anderson was escorted from the room by courthouse security.
“I think you all believe in what you’re saying,” West told the crowd. “I wish you’d give the same respect and believe that I feel seriously about the way I feel … I don’t make decisions to get votes. I base my decisions on what I think is best for the most people in this county.”
Alan Hunt remained mostly silent during the meeting. He briefly commented he had talked to three board members from North Miami Community Schools who said they were opposed to the project. The wind farm was projected to generate a substantial amount of new tax revenue for the district.
A study by Indianapolis-based consulting firm Umbaugh said the project would bring an estimated $340 million investment to the county that would likely generate around $7.7 million in new revenue over 11 years, and even more after that.
That would also lead to lower property taxes, especially in Allen, Perry, Richland and Union townships, where the project would be built, the study said.