Henry County Council member Clay Morgan found himself dumbfounded Wednesday.
Sulphur Springs business owner Jim McShirley appeared before Morgan and the rest of the council during their November meeting to share concerns with the final draft of Henry County’s comprehensive plan.
McShirley claimed that someone in the local government ordered that the final version of the plan support wind energy development in Henry County.
McShirley told the Henry County Council that a change made to the comp plan over the past few months effectively makes the 168-page document “a $100,000 rubber stamp for pro-IWT (industrial wind turbine) interests.”
“We paid lot of money for a process that lasted so long. A lot of time and energy, volunteer hours [were] put into it,” Morgan said. “And then to have ‘officials’ – whoever they are – say ‘no, we don’t want that, let’s change it,’ I understand why the public would be very frustrated by that.”
“It makes it look crooked, doesn’t it?” Morgan asked McShirley.
“It does,” McShirley replied.
Creation of the comp plan
The Henry County Planning Commission explained in 2016 that the comprehensive plan would “be a tool that is used for economic development as well as insuring quality of life for Henry County’s current and future residents.”
The proposed Henry County Comprehensive Plan was created by company American StructurePoint. It is the final result of multiple public open houses, surveys, stakeholder meetings and months of research.
The entire process was funded with a $96,000 grant from the Henry County Food & Beverage Tax fund and $10,000 from the Henry County Redevelopment Commission. The Henry County Planning Commission further contributed $2,000 in cash from the county’s non-reverting fund and more than $12,000 in in-kind donations.
Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs presented the planning commission with the final comprehensive plan draft Nov. 16.
McShirley gave the county council copies of a draft of the Henry County comprehensive plan that was dated Aug. 25, 2017 and marked “draft not intended for public dissemination.”
That version of the plan said large commercial wind projects “are no longer considered to be an appropriate land use in Henry County.”
“That got changed and a 180 was done,” McShirley said, referring to the final version of the plan dated Oct. 13.
He drew the county council’s attention to the “wind” section of the plan and what he called its “pro-industrial turbine position.”
McShirley has vocally opposed the development of wind farms in Henry County under the current ordinances. He repeated his economic concerns Wednesday and claimed that if the comprehensive plan is adopted with its current language, “it will doom Henry County to a future of poverty, indebtedness, and a never-ending downward spiral.”
The Courier-Times reached out to American StructurePoint project manager and senior planner Brooke Thomas to better understand the process of how the comprehensive plan drafts evolved over time.
Thomas told The Courier-Times that she worked with Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs on American StructurePoint’s official statement on the process.
Thomas said American StructurePoint finalized their recommendations for the plan “at the direction of the volunteer steering committee, and with the support of many of the county’s elected and appointed officials.”
Concerns brought to council
After McShirley brought up his concerns Wednesday, council member Morgan shared his frustration that Thomas had not named a specific Henry County representative who made the decision to change the American StructurePoint plan.
“It could very well be that whoever asked for that is sitting in this room, if they said ‘official,’” Morgan told McShirley.
The three Henry County Commissioners and members of the Henry County Planning Commission were present at the time of Morgan’s comments.
“There’s been way too much money, way too much effort put into this. It’s a very good comprehensive plan,” Morgan said. “And then to have it changed on a dime ... I understand. It definitely makes it look shady.”
Henry County Commissioner Kim Cronk commented that the proposed comprehensive plan has not been approved.
The Henry County Planning Commission has received a copy of the proposal. They can now review it and conduct public hearings. If the planning commission agrees with the proposal, they can then make a recommendation that the Henry County Commissioners adopt it into law.
“There’s no plan that’s been approved yet,” Cronk said.
Cronk said there is no guarantee that the plan will be approved even if it does come before the commissioners.
“With (American) StructurePoint’s work and the money paid, if this plan isn’t approved, do we have to pay them more money to find a plan that’s suitable and viable and is equitable for all of our county residents?” McShirley asked. “I hope to God we don’t have to pay them more money.”
No one from the Henry County Council or Board of Commissioners offered an answer.