PRINCETON — Haubstadt physician David Utley reiterated to Gibson County Commissioners Tuesday that the county needs zoning protection from a proposed wind farm and other unknown future development that could have an adverse effect.
Members of Gibcowind, a group of residents opposed to RWE Renewables' proposed wind turbine farm in Gibson County, packed the commissioners' meeting room at the Gibson County North Annex to encourage commissioners to revive land use planning that could impose restrictions on locations and conditions of a wind turbine project.
Board of Commissioners President Steve Bottoms told the group that commissioners are waiting to see how Posey County's Area Plan Commission addresses setback, shadow flicker, noise, property value and Doppler radar protection issues in their zoning ordinance this week.
County Attorney Jim McDonald said Gibson County's Advisory Plan Commission, appointed in 2017 but abruptly shelved in 2018, would need to reconvene to resume development of a comprehensive land-use plan.
If the APC is reconvened, meetings would be public and public hearings would be a part of the process, which would include an ultimate vote by the commissioners to accept the plan, he explained.
McDonald said if the county were to adopt a zoning ordinance that regulated wind farms, it would have enforceable power as long as construction had not started prior to the ordinance taking effect.
In March, representatives of the wind turbine company said more meteorological and environmental studies and permitting processes are ahead over the next two to three years, before a wind farm layout is finalized.
"Don't worry, nobody's going to rush anything through," Bottoms said Tuesday night. Earlier in the meeting, he told the crowd, "I"m not against the turbines...but basically, all of this is just talk," explaining that without zoning authority, the county cannot regulate anything other than county road conditions.
Utley told commissioners he thinks that more than 70 turbines as tall as 500 feet will degrade the Owensville National Weather Service Doppler radar's accuracy and could prompt health issues ranging from anxiety, to seizures, migraine headaches and even possible atrial heart fibrillation.
"We know we need an area planning commission," he told them, reminding residents and commissioners that zoning could protect the county from unknown future develops such as landfills accepting waste from outside the county to adult bookstores along Interstate 69. Otherwise, the county faces the impact of those issues, "along with other threats we can't even see right now," said Utley. He warned that after they're built, "then people will start to look for someone to blame."
Utley pointed to other counties that have enacted restrictions on turbines regarding shadow flicker, setbacks and property value guarantees. "Gibson County needs these things...We ask you to expedite the zoning process."
Beverly Adler of Haubstadt said she has two sons who will have adverse health effects from the proposed wind turbines. She said she's concerned that if Posey County adopts restrictions, RWE Renewables will look to locate more turbines in Gibson County. She said if wind turbines are located at sites compromising the NWS Doppler, it will affect 495,000 people in the tri-state.
RWE Wind Development Manager Karsen Rumpf told Adler the company is looking at all options regarding the Doppler and assured that leasing agents "have not upped any ante" for potential property leases. He said issues including sound analysis and shadow flicker are under review.
Sarah Newton of Poseyville asked RWE representatives if they will sign a curtailment agreement with the National Weather Service that would require them to shut off turbines if NWS sees the need.
RWE Director of Development Lael Eason told Newton that the company has engaged a consultant to look at ways to mitigate interference with the Doppler and said the company's willing to look at voluntary curtailment when needed. He said the company would work with all agencies that are a part of the application for federal permits. And, he said REW isn't necessarily opposed to zoning.
Eason and Rumpf, both asked whether they live and work near turbines, told the audience that they do. Eason said he works across the street from a turbine. "I've been around turbines my whole life as well," Rumpf said, noting that he farmed around turbines and went to college where a turbine was located on the campus.
Jeff Mobley said that while he believes landowners should be able to "use their land how they like," he wants information about any potential impact on water sources and other issues, such as setbacks.
Billie Zehner of Owensville said she knows people who were ignorant of the purpose of zoning and focused upon the idea of "not letting big government" get involved in their affairs, would support it now if they had the opportunity.
Richard Straub of Haubstadt said the wind turbines have increased land value and provided revenue for local governments in other Indiana counties.
During the hour of discussion, Bottoms said all issues are being examined, even exploring the cost of moving the Doppler radar, which he said would cost about $10 million.
Commissioner Gerald Bledsoe told the crowd that their comments were appreciated, and noted the board meets again at 8 a.m. Dec. 3 and 6 p.m. Dec. 17 in regular session, as well as a Dec. 27 8 a.m. special meeting for year-end bill-paying.