By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
The president of the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals wants to change the permitting process for future wind farm developments in the county.
During a hearing Wednesday for the conditional use permit request by juwi Wind for the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm in northwestern Tipton County, Jerry Acres, president of the BZA, said he has a problem with the process.
Acres said he has been on the board for two years and was not fully aware of the details of the juwi project. He said there are other wind farm projects being considered for the county that he can’t obtain information about.
“The details have not been fully disclosed,” he said. “The county followed the letter of the law, but the process is not fair.”
Acres said deals with wind farm companies should be brought to BZA members earlier in the permitting process.
“This one we have to get right,” he said of the Prairie Breeze project. “It will change the face of Tipton County.”
Acres admitted he didn’t read the entire application submitted by E.ON Climate & Renewables for the Wildcat Wind Farm in eastern Tipton County.
“There was no opposition to the E.ON project,” he said.
Acres said BZA members needed more information and there was no professional, independent information provided.
Board members said both sides called experts and they had to determine who to believe.
Acres said he was unable to decipher the conflicting information provided by experts for juwi Wind and the Tipton County Citizens for Responsible Development when it came to public health concerns.
BZA member Frank Zickmund said when E.ON came to the county, the only issue was the setbacks and whether they should be measured from a structure or the property line.
He said Tipton County has a new comprehensive plan.
“Juwi is playing by the rules we set,” Zickmund said. “We can change them to benefit every resident of the county.”
Acres said the Prairie Breeze project has split the Tipton County community and there are not enough independent studies being done.
Planning Director Steve Edson said it’s not a perfect process, but it is a legitimate process.
When asked about the road use, economic development and decommissioning agreements with juwi Wind, Edson said the agreements were signed by the commissioners at the start of the process.
Acres said county residents should determine if they want wind farms in Tipton County and where they can be located and eliminate the need to appear before the BZA for a conditional use permit.
Pat Heck, attorney for the opponents, said part of the problem is the way Tipton County has handled the process.
“The public was not involved in the economic development agreement,” he said. “You have to make a decision that is best for all citizens of Tipton County.”
Heck said wind farms go against the county’s comprehensive plan which is intended to protect the rural landscape.
“There has been a tainted process,” he said. “The project was discussed in executive sessions which may have violated the Open Door Law.”
Heck said if Tipton County wants wind farms, it should permit them as a right.
Mary Solida, attorney for juwi, said the farmers in support of the project know about farm preservation as mentioned in the comprehensive plan.
“The process was not tainted,” she said. “Every meeting complied with Indiana law. Every decision was made at a public meeting.”