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Steering committee close to completion

March 16, 2011

COLUMBIA CITY — By the time the Whitley County Board of Commissioners convenes Monday afternoon, at least nine names should be presented to the three-man board for approval.
That list of names will be known as the steering committee for wind energy research.
The Whitley County Plan Commission discussed the formation of the committee at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The need for the advisory board was born out of a hotly-debated issue on the need, or lack thereof, of wind energy in the county.
The commission attempted last year to pass an ordinance that would have regulated the construction of wind energy conversion systems, or wind farms.
The ordinance died at the hands of public outcry and a perceived conflict of interest with one of the board members.
One of the common themes with the opposition of windmills was more public input, which saw rise to a call for a steering committee and for a study prior to any drafting of a wind ordinance.
In recent months, the idea has been discussed both at plan commission meetings and by the Whitley County Board of Commissioners.
The thinking was the board should be made up of three groups — members of the citiizenry who oppose wind farms, members of the same demographic who are in favor of them, and members of county leadership.
Meanwhile, the possibility remains that the derailing of last year’s proposed wind ordinance by anti-windmill citizens could have left the county vulnerable to the very thing they’re trying to avoid.
Windmill opponents have been calling for a moratorium on wind farms until the ordinance is completed.
”There is no moratorium,” said Dave Sewell, executive director of the county’s Building and Planning Department.
Should a wind energy conversion company decide to build in Whitley County, the only hurdle in that company’s way would be the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals since most commercial windmills surpass current height restrictions set forth in the county’s zoning ordinance.
Once such company, Wind Capital Group, already has towers constructed in the southern parts of the county. Those towers are measuring wind speed to see if building a wind farm here is feasible.
Several residents asked about a moratorium at last night’s meeting of the commission.
Commissioner Dave Addison said the plan commission doesn’t have the authority to issue such a ban.
George Schrumpf, who is also a county commissioner, mirrored Addison’s statement.
“We cannot enact a moratorium because that would be subverting the zoning process,” Schrumpf said.
Since the issue rose to the surface last year, residents opposed to wind farms organized, forming the Whitley County Concerned Citizens.
Plan Commission Chairman Brandon Forrester asked WCCC member Mark Myhnier if he would get with members of his group and provide three names for consideration to serve on the steering committee. Myhnier agreed.
Forrester then asked Steve Sickafoose, a South Whitley resident who is in favor of wind farms, to provide three names for the committee.
Sickafoose agreed.
For county government, the commission selected Forrester, Paula Reimers, who also serves on the County Council, and Schrumpf.
Forrester asked the representatives of the two interest groups to have their names ready by noon on Monday so the list could be presented to the county commissioners. In addition, the commission put a cap of 15 total members on the steering committee, although the target number was nine.
The committee will work with Brad Johnson and Ground Rules, Inc. to study all aspects of wind energy conversion. Johnson’s firm was hired by the county to conduct the study.
Findings from the study will be used to draft the new incarnation of the county’s wind energy ordinance.

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