(The following letter was originally published in the “Voice of the People” of The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.)
Residents need to stay vigilant when it comes to “big wind” in Fulton County, because it can come roaring back at any time. Recently some wind companies have been suing local municipalities who are trying to keep them out. On February 9th, RES (Renewable Energy Systems) filed with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) for 436 industrial wind turbines in Fulton, Cass, and Miami Counties. That’s right, you didn’t read that incorrectly, they filed for turbines in Fulton County in February 2018, well after the final vote prohibiting wind turbines in Fulton County. Why would RES do that? Why are their bird and bat counters still lurking around our county? Why is the local RES salesman still on their payroll? Perhaps because RES has some key allies in Fulton County; namely our Area Plan Commission executive director, one commissioner, and most of the Area Plan Commission regardless of the public outcry and letters against the project found in several requests of public records of Fulton County officials’ files. Just what was found in those files? Oh the tangled web they weave. Let’s unravel it for the good people of Fulton County.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary’s definition of collusion: secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose. Is that what has been happening in Fulton County with the wind project? Evidence found in the Executive Plan Director’s files are as follows: On August 22, 2017, Area Plan Commission Executive Director Casi Cowles admits via e-mail to RES project director Brad Lila that the Fulton County ordinance is a “mirror image” of White, Cass and Miami counties. White County’s ordinance is an often-copied document that welcomes big wind into counties, and was written when wind turbines were half the size of the turbines planned for Fulton, Cass and Miami Counties.
In the minutes for the 8/28 Area Plan Commission meeting at the time of the “writing” of the ordinance, Cowles said she pulled information from Wabash and Clinton Counties (counties with more protective setbacks), but that information, according to the information request, does not appear to have been shared prior to that meeting for the board’s review. The only counties pulled for the PC board to compare at the 8/28 meeting were Benton, Cass, Miami, White, and Tipton. Ironically, two of those five counties are in the current RES proposal with weak language, and two others were the first two counties in the state to install such towers, also having weak language. Only ONE county (Tipton) was used showing safer setbacks. Only ONE PC board member questioned the small/biased sample and asked for more county comparisons.
From a Rochester Sentinel article: Cowles said there will not come a time where she will give a recommendation to county officials about how they should vote on the zoning regulations pertaining to wind power or on approving a wind farm. It’s not her job to recommend, she said, only to prepare the information officials need to make an educated vote. “I think it’s more important to focus on the facts,” Cowles said.
Let’s talk about facts. Because we requested Cowles’ entire file, all e-mails, etc. for communication with the Commissioners, FEDCO, Plan Commission, and RES reps regarding wind turbines, it appears the executive director originally provided no data showing counties with longer setbacks for decisions to be based upon. Also, no scientific data was provided by the executive director to our officials supporting the idea that a 1,200 foot setback from a home is safe, yet we citizens were challenged at the 10/16 Commissioners meeting to provide peer-reviewed studies proving that wind turbines sited closer than 2,640 feet from a home are not safe. Brad Lila said none exist. We then provided nearly 50 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing the proposed setbacks are unsafe. Cowles did not provide enough information for our officials to cast a vote with the health, safety and well being of the citizens of Fulton County in mind. The only entity in mind in our proposed ordinance appears to be RES and Brad Lila. This is evident in the many RES and Brad Lila references Cowles used during the meetings and in emails. This was supposed to be about reviewing and updating the WECS ordinance, not about a project or specific company. So why the constant communication and collusion with RES?
Citizens questioned who the ordinance was written for – to protect people or if it was written to help RES. In an August 24 email from Brad Lila to Casi Cowles, the message has a subject line of: Additional Changes to Wind Ordinance. The e-mail shows strike-throughs where RES engineers changed the wording in our ordinance and wrote what they wanted for braking systems in the Fulton County ordinance, which was later the exact wording in the ordinance. It is collusion to allow a contractor to write part of a zoning ordinance.
Only two members from all boards receiving information from Cowles on setbacks (Plan Commission, Commissioners, FEDCO) questioned ANY of Casi’s information (and lack of information) provided, and that was Eric Straeter, President of the Area Plan Commission and member Kathy Hobbs. Straeter wanted more time to study the problems citizens experience living in wind farms, and should be commended. Sadly during their February meeting, the Area Plan Commission voted to be able to remove an officer after Straeter brought it to the board’s attention that Cowles has not had an annual evaluation for several years (per comments made by board members Mark Kepler and Jim Widman at the January meeting). Straeter insisted annual evaluations begin taking place like they are annually for all other appointed department heads. As the February meeting was concluding, Cowles loudly accused Straeter in front of the board and crowd of divulging information about her evaluation during a public meeting (what evaluation? It hasn’t been happening) and she demanded Straeter be removed from the committee evaluating her. Only time will tell if legalized corruption will continue or not.
Signed, A Concerned Citizen