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February 15, 2012

Reimers research falls short

I read Paula’s comments in her recent editorial with considerable interest.  Her approach is what I would expect from a thoughtful and rational person.  She explains herself and doesn’t take cheap shots like many of the anti-wind people do. 
I agree with Paula that she has to take in the entire county, not just three townships when considering an ordinance.  I think her research falls short with the density of 98 people per square mile.  No one has proposed a wind farm anywhere else in the county.  None are planned for the Courthouse lawn!  The densities of each township are: Cleveland-69.2, Washington-31.6, and Jefferson-52.6 people per square mile.  All are below the county average.  Benton County is 22, and White is 50.  If you average the three Whitley County townships, the average density is 51.1.  So if density is an important measure, and it is, then the area proposed for the wind farm is comparable to White County.  The density of 98 overstates the case.
Paula’s reference to economic development is right on target.  This is our primary  goal, too.  Add jobs and dollars to the tax base to relieve the burden on the property tax payer.  Paula gives credit to the “past” County Commissioners and Councilmen.  That is 100% correct, but she overlooked the key story.
When the TIF district was first proposed in the 1980s, a small but vocal group of Union Township residents rose up in arms in protest.  They opposed more traffic, noise, pollution, spoiling the rural setting, and the negative impact on their property value.  Sound familiar?  The elected officials took a lot of verbal and potentially physical abuse.  It was not a pretty scene, and many of us were embarrassed by their radicalism.  If you think I am overstating this, please dig out the old newspaper articles and talk to the locals who lived through that era.  County economic development should look at the whole county, not just the corridor.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, Paula.
So what do we have now?  We have a different group and a different time, but the same old weary, time worn arguments.  It looks like the County Commissioners will have to step up to the plate again in order to do what is right.  Ironically, someone in Paula’s position will look back in another 30 years and say: “We sure made a wise move when we supported a workable wind ordinance.” 
Why won’t a 1500’ setback work?  Several reasons: Whitley County is not Benton or White County.  The agricultural landscape is different.  Their farmers control very large tracts of ground.  Whitley County has many more small landowners of 80-160 acres, not thousands of acres.  I would note too that many of our Whitley County landowners are retired and depend on the farm income to supplement Social Security.  That is a pretty good reason to sign up wouldn’t you think?  Another factor is that our area has considerable woodlands that affect the placement of turbines.  Benton and White are flat, open prairie land and include some of the best productive ground in the state.
Give the Wind Project a chance!  The Plan Commission still has the review and approval of the development plan for any potential project.  This assumes that a workable ordinance is approved not one with the overly restrictive 1500’.

Galen Eberhart


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February 07, 2012

Property owner's rights key in wind farm debate

Citizens of Whitley County:

I like to believe that I have maintained an objective, knowledgeable and fair outlook on the proposed “wind farm project” that has consumed my time, e-mail and telephone. To that end I want to take a moment to share with you my viewpoints (as a member of the Plan Commission and a County Council person) in regards to the pending project and wind energy ordinance that will regulate the turbines placement upon approval of the County Commissioners. 

The most important thing that people need to remember is that the wind energy ordinance that is currently being drafted includes the entire county – NOT just three townships (Washington, Cleveland and Jefferson).  This means as a Plan Commission member I include in my thought process ALL of Whitley County, not just the participants (those individuals who have signed a lease agreement with Wind Capitol Group) or the non-participants (individuals who are currently in the potential proposed project area that have not signed a lease agreement).  Whitley County has a population of 33,392 (2010) and has an average population density of 98 people per square mile (2009). This is an important statement because our population density per square mile is significantly higher than other Counties that house nearby wind farms which are regularly cited in debates over the issue. The first being White County with an average of 46 people per square mile and Benton County with an average of 21 people per square mile.  The participants regularly site these Counties as examples because their wind projects are working well for these Counties for varying reasons.  Another difference between these counties and ours would be their location and existing economic development.  It can’t be argued that the monies that are funneled into these smaller counties are significant however Whitley County is not Benton or White County.

Participants state that we are missing a terrific opportunity and that we NEED this project to survive. Whitley County can survive without a wind farm. Primarily because our existing economic positioning:  Whitley County is made up of a business corridor that has developed over the years due to the foresight of past and current County Commissioners and Councilman as well the Economic Board of Directors and past and current Presidents.  Whitley County will continue to take a progressive approach to economic development, for instance creating and supporting one of the largest Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Districts in the State of Indiana.  We are also less than 20 miles from both Fort Wayne, the 2nd largest city in Indiana, and Warsaw, the orthopedics capital of the world. This is another substantial difference between Whitley County and White/Benton Counties that warrants our attention.

The information above matters because a significant objective by many throughout this process is to capture the monies that the wind farm will generate.  I know that the wind farm project would cause a financial gain to every taxpayer.  My concerns here include the fact that the wind energy projects are subsidized by the taxpayer (on a federal level) and that the Wind Capital’s representative told me directly that they would request a $10 Million dollar tax abatement from the County Council in order to be able to resell the energy generated at a competitive rate.  These statements have led me to believe that the wind industry relies too heavily on the taxpayer’s wallet and not enough on their own production profit.  There are arguments that wind energy is an expensive but viable energy however it is my opinion that a better renewable energy will be harnessed at a more economical and less intrusive means in the future.

At our last meeting the Plan Commission voted and a 1,500 set-back from a non-participants property line was approved by majority vote.  I have been told by several lease holders that the 1,500 foot setback “kills” the project.  In White County a wind farm developer used a 1,500 setback on their own even though it was not required within their wind energy ordinance.  My question is if Horizon Wind Energy can meet this regulation, then why can’t Wind Capital Group?

The 1,500 foot setback is important in order to reduce the impact to the non-participants. We, the government, should never set policy based on one project but must remember that the policy being set is also for any wind energy project anywhere in the County.  If a company came in and said that it couldn’t maintain a safe pollution level should we modify our regulations that allow for an unsafe level? No. The regulations the Plan Commission set are designed to maintain a safe environment for all taxpayers and it has nothing to do with whether you’re a farmer or engineer.  It is non-discriminatory and unbiased as it should be.

Finally the most important factor in my mind are property rights. What should people expect that live in rural areas?  I believe that an individual should have the right to do with their land what they choose as long as it doesn’t impede a neighboring land owner.  Setbacks protect non-participants but also allow the participants the ability to construct the turbines on their land.  It is unfortunate if they need more land in order to construct a viable project with the approved 1,500 foot setback but that is the guideline that the majority of the Plan Commission voted on. 

Paula Reimers
Whitley County Plan Commission
Whitley County Council


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More to consider with Wind Energy

Editor:

We do not understand why the following was not in the article in the Columbia City paper February 1st in regards to wind energy.
        The $2 million Economic Development Package
        $1 million to Whitko
        12 to 16 miles of roads @ $40,000 a mile
        Assessed valuation $400 million would drop property tax 5 to 14%
        County employees wages would go up
        Benefits churches, 4-H and on and on…
The newspaper article had an error $1.6 million to Walt Trier which is incorrect, it is $1.6 million to the 600+ plus participants.
A 50 year contract – what are we going to leave the next generation? No rights, higher taxes and no future.
With the wind energy the positives it will bring to the County far outweigh the negatives.  It is a no brainer!
If all the other Counties are OK with 1000 feet setback why isn’t Whitley County?
 
Concerned about the future of Whitley County
Becky Curless & Jamie Percy    


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$300 Million Decision

Editor:

Soon the Whitley County Plan Commission will propose a Wind Ordinance to the County Commissioners.  There are indications that it will require a 1500 foot setback from non-participating property lines.  If that recommendation is approved and the ordinance is approved by the Commissioners, no wind power project will build in Whitley County.  In fact, the Wind Capital group will drop the project.
How can the citizens of Whitley County find this acceptable?  A typical 150MW wind project requires a $300,000,000 investment, will pay landowners $1,600,000 annually, will pay about $1,100,000 in property taxes annually, reduce taxes for the participating townships, increase funding of $1,500,000 to Whitko and Whitley County Schools, and provide discretionary funds to the County Council, Commissioners and the Economic Development Corporation.
Our economy is in shambles, and we are turning a deaf ear to a project that works and has great benefits for Whitley County citizens.  Many areas would give their eye teeth to be considered for a project of this scope.  Why are a vocal minority so obstinate and selfish?  They insinuate many problems with dubious research studies.  If you really want to know what a wind farm is like, don’t listen to the minority.  Go to a wind farm and listen to those who have real experience.  Real world experience is much better than the opinions generated by the fear mongers. I predict you will find the positives far outweigh the negatives, by a large margin.
Let’s get on with progress.  We won’t have this kind of opportunity ever again.  Voice your support for wind power by contacting the members of the Whitley County Plan Commission and/or the Whitley County Commissioners.  Do it now before the February 15 meeting.

A native of Whitley County, landowner, and retired Economic Development Director,
Galen Eberhart


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