Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

May 4, 2014

Wind at the center of Tipton primary

Divisive issue expected to draw higher-than-normal turnout Tuesday

By Martin Slagter
Tribune staff writer

Tipton — It’s been referred to as a referendum vote — a chance to gauge where the community stands on the wind energy issue that has been the subject of much debate in Tipton County.

The issue has drawn the ire of residents in the county on both sides: Those who are for wind development and the money it brings to the county and those who are hoping to stop it from expanding, citing the health and safety concerns of residents who live near the turbines.

There are no proposals on Tuesday’s primary ballot regarding wind, but candidates in a number of crucial county races have identified wind energy development as the hottest issue facing the county.

Perhaps the most high profile of those races is the county Board of Commissioners seat currently held by Phil Heron, who faces challenger Gerald Shuck. Two Tipton County Council seats also will be contested, with anti-wind challengers Eric Parent and Jim Leffler running for those spots. Parent will take on incumbent Dennis Henderson, while Leffler will challenge Mike Orr, the interim trustee for Prairie Township, for the open seat.

Shuck has singled out wind development as the biggest issue facing the county because it has become such a polarizing topic. He is one of several candidates supported by the Citizens for Responsible Government group, which holds an anti-wind stance, despite Shuck’s willingness to listen to both sides of the wind argument.

“The reason I believe it will be a referendum vote is because so many people have been fighting on this issue for so long debating the pros and cons,” Shuck said. “Most people running for office are either pro- or anti-wind, and the people in the county know that.”

Despite working for months to amend the county’s wind ordinance to provide better sound protection and setbacks for wind turbines, Heron said the focus of the primary will remain on wind development.

Heron, who voted for the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, has remained steadfast that he is not in favor of banning wind farm development in the county.

“Right now there are a lot of good things happening in the county, it’s more than just an anti-wind issue,” Heron said. “There are a handful of people that are very adamant and focusing on the negative aspects [of wind].”

Despite holding different stances on wind farms, both Shuck and Heron agreed that there is much more at stake in the upcoming term than how the county will proceed with wind development, including economic development and capitalizing on Chrysler’s presence in the county to bring in more small businesses.

Both also agreed that Tuesday’s vote will allow the county to move forward.

CRG organizer Brent Snow said the group started with the intent of finding and recruiting candidates for the primary, many of whom hold an anti-wind stance.

While other issues remain important, Snow said the primary and fall election are critical regarding the future of the county and its wind farm developments.

“It’s the issue,” he said. “Several of the other candidates have been trying to downplay that fact, but the fact is this is our referendum vote for wind in Tipton County. This is our only chance to voice our opinion on the fact that we don’t want any more wind turbines in Tipton County.”

Wind development has been the No. 1 issue for another group in the county, the Citizens for Responsible Development, which has long taken a hard stance against wind in the county.

Members of the group have spoken out during public meetings on numerous occasions over the past year and a half, since the county council passed a tax abatement for the project in December 2012.

CRD President Jeff Hoover said the mission of the group has been not only preventing future wind development from happening, but to educate the public on the health, safety and property value issues that go along with having wind farms in the county.

“We’ve also worked hard to try to get certain things put in the wind ordinance,” he said. “Through our education efforts, I think we’ve found that these wind towers aren’t as much of a positive as the wind companies want you to believe.”

Because the wind energy topic has become such a divisive issue, Hoover expects that Tuesday’s primary will yield a higher than normal turnout in Tipton County.

Martin Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8570, martin.slagter@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @slagterm.