(This was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, November 3, 2017.)
Voice of the People
To the Editor; I recently read that Fulton County was presented information about a possible wind farm project. Tipton County went down this path in 2011.
We visited White and Benton Counties and heard nothing but great things. We also visited Iroquois County, Illinois to look at their roads. As a county commissioner, I was able to secure many positives for the county, but I missed a few things.
Setbacks: I did not take into account that the “standard” towers in Benton & White counties at 350’ in height with an ordinance setback from non-participating landowners of 1000’ should not apply ‘across the board’ in other counties where turbine heights were going to be 500’ and over. The taller the tower, the greater the setback should be and it should always be from the property line and never from the residential structure, as that limits the property owner full use of his/her property for outdoor use. A local government should never use a non-participating land owners’ own property as part of the setback (as in measurement from the structure) because a person should be protected via a setback from all locations of their own property. The non-participating citizens who are affected by the presence of the towers should not have to bear the ill effects of the turbines without compensation. Since I have now experienced first-hand the noise and shadow flicker in the homes of non-participating landowners at distances of even 1500 feet away, I would recommend a 1/2 mile setback from the property line of any non-participating land owner. A zoning ordinance allows people to do things on their own property, but it is also to protect adjacent owners. Some say that disallowing wind farms deprives a property owner of economic use of the land and is thereby an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation. However, that concept must be balanced by the fact that zoning regulations governing adequate setbacks are in place due to an obligation to insure public health and safety. Because this “economic development project” covers such a large geographical area of your county and affects numerous citizens, you cannot treat it the same way as another project that is confined to a few acres and affects only very few people. Protection of neighboring property values and enhancing the livability of your residents are the primary objective of the zoning ordinance and are of paramount importance to the overall “general welfare” of your county. In this case, you have many property owners affected by the project and their welfare should be prioritized over the deprivation of a few property owners’ land use for financial gain.
Property Values: The property values of the fields where the turbines are located will increase since the lease payment would be a ‘given’ every year. Shockingly, the wind company pursuing you is offering landowners far less per turbine than
what our landowners received! However, the property values of the non-participating landowners within even a mile of the turbines will decrease. It may not show in the “assessed value,” but the stark reality is that the pool of people interested in living in a home close to the turbines is far less than those interested in homes far away from the turbines.
Jobs: No one in our county was qualified for the permanent jobs and the 200 “local” jobs were given to union workers 50 miles away.
Community Partnership: The first year the company gave some sizable donations to various not for profits and philanthropies, but after that were absent from the community.
Tile Ditching: In the project area, tile ditchers experience laser and GPS equipment failure due to the magnitude of the voltage that is exuding from the underground cables. While trenching, they find that the dirt is an eerie gray “fried looking” color. If the location maps of the cables are not perfect, and because the high voltage disables the equipment’s technology, the safety of the crews installing the tiles is at risk. It is a problem we never anticipated.
Other Facts: We have 69 turbines. Investment was $175 million. With abatement, company will pay $3.5 million over ten years in property taxes and $7 million in the next ten. Our financial consultant conveyed that for the average “Joe”, this would amount to a $25 per year decrease in their property tax bill. Even those living in town who do not have a constant visual of the turbines, this was not worth a complete change in their landscape. You can see the towers in the daylight easily from 8 miles away. At night you can see the red blinking lights from 15 to 20 miles away.
The truth is that the turbines affect nearly everyone in your county in some way and it will most assuredly divide your community because the presence of the turbines are a constant reminder of the strife.
We have had three blade breaks in the 69 turbines. Our ordinance of a 1,000 foot setback was inadequate in protecting our non-participating citizens and their testimonials of despair are real. After seeing what this project did to Tipton County both aesthetically and to the quality of life for some, Clinton County, which has the highest wind speeds in the state, tabled turbines. Howard and Grant Counties voted to terminate their relationship with the same wind company for “Phase II”. Marshall and Hamilton Counties banned turbines. Many other counties increased setbacks to one-half mile for non-participating land owners. These neighboring counties learned a valuable lesson from our experience. Remember that you cannot “lose” money you never had coming into the county.
We were the guinea pig for the taller towers locating in a county with a weak ordinance. The company knew that many non-participants would be affected but they would never have to live in the same community with these folks and witness how the turbines have ruined their lives.
But I DO remain amongst the towers and live amongst the people who are adversely affected by them and deeply regret having signed the documents enabling the construction of the wind farm.
This is why I am sharing my experience with you all … so that you will not have to regret being a part of facilitating something that is a “windfall” to a few, but a curse to many. If you feel that the positives will outweigh the negatives for your county, then by all means at least incorporate greater setbacks to protect your non participating landowners who were “there first,” and make sure other aspects of your ordinance are “airtight” with respect to how complaints are handled and how and who enforces the provisions of your ordinance. Our ordinance was extremely weak, and our naivete was taken advantage of.
I wish you all the best in what may lie ahead. I reach out to you for only one reason: I wish someone had done the same for me.
Respectfully, Jane Harper
Tipton County Commissioner 2009-2012