PERU – The Miami County Planning and Building Commission Wednesday voted to consider changes to the county’s wind-farm ordinance that could add much more stringent setback requirements for wind turbines from roads and property lines.
The move comes after hundreds of local residents expressed concerns for months about a project that could bring 75 turbines to the northern part of the county. The parameters for the wind farm would roughly run from 900 North to the Fulton County line, which encompasses about 36,000 acres.
Now, wind-farm opponents see Wednesday’s vote as the first step towards potentially shutting down the wind farm proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company, that opponents say would severely impair their quality of life and create a health risk for area residents.
The commission is now set to consider increasing the turbine setback to 2,000 feet from property lines, roads, public lands and city limits.
The county’s current ordinance requires only a 1,000-foot setback from residential dwellings and a setback of no less than 350 feet from roads, railroads and public easements.
The proposed setback changes came from a three-person subcommittee of the planning commission made up of members Jason Bowman, Brad Fruth and John Reibly.
The subcommittee was created in December to review the ordinance after residents expressed concerns that the current setbacks would allow turbines to be built dangerously close to their homes.
Those opponents came out in full force during Wednesday’s meetings. Hundreds packed into the courthouse to express their views. Many wore yellow shirts saying “Just Say No” to wind turbines. Others brought signs showing turbines looming near country homes.
Becky Mahoney, who lives near Macy and has been a vocal opponent of the project, also presented the plan commission with nearly 900 signatures from area residents requesting a turbine setback of 2,640 from property lines.
“We’re looking for heroes,” she told the commission. “We’re looking for people who are supposed to represent us and who will do it with integrity, who will do it with due diligence and who will stand up for the wants of the people of the community.”
Commission member Fruth told the crowd the subcommittee made its recommendations after reviewing wind ordinances from around 30 other counties. They also considered documentation from RES and comments from the public, he said.
Reibly, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting due to a previous engagement, said in a letter the proposed setbacks were determined after considering research, property rights, natural resources and the safety of citizens.
But Larry West, a county commissioner who serves on the plan commission, said the proposed setback requirements would likely kill any chance of a wind farm coming to the county, including the proposed project by RES. He said he wasn’t aware of any wind farm in the state that was built in a county that required a 2,000-foot setback.
“I assume that the committee, by putting in the setback requirements, is basically saying we don’t want wind towers,” he said. “I don’t know if that was the committee’s intent. … But basically, this shuts down the project if these setbacks were approved.”
Bowman said that could be the case, but how the setbacks would affect the proposed RES project wasn’t a factor in their recommendation.
Brad Lila, director of development for RES who is in charge of the project, said in a phone interview Thursday the company is moving forward with the project despite the proposed changes.
“The project is continuing on course,” he said. “As of right now, the project is continuing as is.”
Lila would not comment, however, on how the proposed setback requirements would affect the project if they do end up being approved.
“I don’t want to speculate until we see what the planning commission and commissioners plan to do,” he said.
The proposed changes will now be written into a proposed ordinance. The planning commission will then vote on whether to approve the new ordinance at its next meeting in April after a public hearing. That ordinance will then go to Miami County commissioners for final approval.
However, only Commissioners Larry West and Alan Hunt will make the final vote on the ordinance since Commissioner Josh Francis has been contracted by RES to help develop lease agreements and recused himself from any vote concerning wind farms.
Wind opponent Mahoney asked the commission to put a temporary ban on any wind farm construction until a final vote is made on a new ordinance, since it could be months before the ordinance is officially approved.
“I’m asking you guys tonight that you put a temporary hold on any applications coming in until it’s finalized,” she said. “It’s just asking for assurance for us that the snake’s not going to sneak through the door before it closes.”
But Pat Roberts, the attorney who represents the commission, said the board should wait until the proposed ordinance is crafted and presented to them at the next meeting.
“‘If’ is the biggest word in the English language,” he said. “Let’s not deal with ‘if.’ Let’s deal with whatever the commission does after the public hearing and what is sent to the county commissioners. Then you know exactly what the ordinance is and what (government) body you have to make a presentation to.”