Concerned residents of Whitley County faced the county’s plan commission Wednesday night with questions and strong comments about the possibility of wind-harnessing machines popping up throughout the county.
The result of the several hour-long meeting was the commission decided to take another month to look at the issue.
The commission, faced with a proposed ordinance designed to regulate that very thing say they are also concerned that without regulation, large windmills could some day pepper the landscape without any county oversight.
The commission heard Dave Sewell, Executive Director of Planning and Building in the county, present the Whitley County Wind Ordinance during a public meeting that packed a meeting room of the county’s government center with disgruntled residents.
Concern has been raised by the appearance of Wind Capital Group, a firm out of Chicago with an office in Columbia City.
Representatives of the company have shown an interest in building what is known as a “wind farm” in the county, according to Sewell.
Sewell said the company is measuring wind in the county by the use of three meteorological towers, one each in Cleveland, Washington and Jefferson townships.
They have also approached property owners with the agreements that would permit constructions of large wind turbines, should the available wind make a farm feasible.
WCG’s Whitley County project has been dubbed Project Crossroads, LLC. They will determine, through research provided by the three towers, whether the company wants to further invest in the building of a wind farm, or Wind Energy Conversion System.
The agreements with land owners, called a lease and easement agreement, have been signed by several county residents already, including Plan Commission President David Schilling.
According to Sewell, the wind turbines that would be used in the county could range from 393 to 475 feet.
The proposed ordinance provides the county with assurances that comprehensive studies would be done before any wind farm is approved.
The primary areas of concern include the environmental impact of such a facility and potential economic advantages to the county.
For residents already seeing the writing on the wall, concerns include potential noise from a wind turbine and the potential for a massive hit to their property value.
According to the ordinance as it’s written now, turbines could not be erected to within 1,500 feet of a residential dwelling and must be 1.1 times the height of the windmill at the tip of the blade to any adjacent property line.
Opponents said the distance was insufficient and many had the figure of 38 to 40 percent in lost property value based on Internet research.
“I think there needs to be an independent study on the environmental impact and lost property value,” said Mark Mynhier.
“We need to be looking at the benefit to the people living around these things,” he added. “You need to rethink these setbacks. It may not make it easier for these wind farms, but it’ll make it easier for those who living there and they are the ones who are living there.”
Mynhier also suggested that one setback be made, to the property line only. He said the current proposed ordinance would restrict a property owner from building on their own property if a wind turbine operated just a few hundred feet from he property line.
“So it doesn’t restrict what people can do on their own property,” he said.
County officials tout the economic benefit of a wind farm in terms of jobs and tax dollars.
“If the ordinance goes through as written, Mynhier said, “there’ll be a lot more people who suffer than who benefit. And, as commissioners, your first responsibility is to the citizens.
Emotions ran high as board members heard public comments, one resident said he felt the citizens weren’t being taken seriously. As he spoke, he noticed Schilling with his head continuously down.
“And Dave, I’d appreciate you showing me the respect of paying attention while I’m speaking,” said James Ryan Null, adding that he thought Schilling’s treatment of some of the speakers was also disrespectful. “And your smug attitude isn’t appreciated either.”
Sewell said that with the ordinance, if passed, potential builders of wind farms would have to prove that noise levels, measured in decibels, or dBAs, with the letter A standing for the weighting system applied to the unit of measurement, meet an acceptable standard.
Stipulations also cover the impact of construction and what to do when a turbine has served its purpose and must be removed.
“We tried to make sure this (ordinance) covers all the things that might be of concern,” Sewell said.
Board member Brandon Forrester said he would entertain any facts from research that the opposing residents could provide, adding that he was admittedly skeptical.
“I’d like to see some real data, or someone’s data that has this 38 to 40 percent depreciation in property value,” Forrester said.
He responded to suggestions by several speakers that setbacks be expanded to 2,500 feet.
“If the setback were 2,500 feet, there wouldn’t be a project,” he said, to a round of applause by the crowd.
Schilling asked the board members if they thought they could continue the issue to the next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 17.
The panel agreed.
Sewell said he and other county officials looked at other projects in counties such as Berrien and White in determining whether such a project could be good for Whitley County.
“It’s (the ordinance) is based on what other people have actually applied,” he said.