Editor's note: This is an unedited version, published here as it was submitted. In print, this column was edited for space.
Over the last several months I have collected information about the projected
wind turbine farm in Cass County. I may receive “explanations” aimed at satisfying my prying questions but I have received very few absolutes. Officials insist that I should already know details because they’ve had open meetings. Yet I have attended some of those public meetings and researched others, even met with the commissioners face to face, and the hard facts are far and few between. So, why are the absolutes so elusive? Surely, in a project this size, “someone” knows something? A Pharos Tribune article dated June 10, 2009 entitled “County Readies Guidelines for Wind Turbines” summarizes the Plan Commission’s intent to establish regulations for wind turbines. From the outside looking in it seems community members should rightfully expect to know more than that which has been communicated by now. And therein lies my frustration.
On March 13, 2018, a proponent of wind farms was the guest on “Talk of the Town” on WSAL. During his interview the guest invited the people of the community to attend an open house meant to inform interested attendees about wind farms. During the morning interview, the guest invited people to an open house that very afternoon from 1:00 to 4:00. I wouldn’t have known except a friend notified me, and my husband and I were two of three people in attendance during our one hour visit. Of course, I have no way of knowing if there might have been a crowd at other times during the open house. Generously communicating with the community is difficult when interested persons had just three hours to make plans. Many people work during the day. Inflexible schedules would have prevented attendance even if people had been concerned. Does this example mean that people don’t care about a wind farm? No, but it certainly manipulates the attendance and maintains control over what a community hears, including the pros and the cons, about a developing project.
During May of 2016, a revised set of amendments from the Cass County Zoning Ordinance Wind Energy Conversion System Regulations was making its way through the Cass County Plan Commission and the Cass County Commissioners. Although the Plan Commission agenda did include “Wind Ordinance” the Commissioners’ agenda made no such reference. The Plan Commission had a public hearing (May 3, 2016) and the minutes explained that the ordinance regulations would be easier if all county ordinances were consistent. They planned on more definitions and replaced the words “large” and “small” with “commercial” and “noncommercial” turbines. The report went on to say that the ordinance standards are basically the same but the structure has “changed”. I would have been disappointed to have attended a public meeting to hear only about the ordinance language. I would have expected to hear discussion regarding how turbines may impact the community as well as those living within or near the turbine farm, yet that was not the case.
However, in the Commissioners’ public meeting (May 16, 2016) the minutes portray a very different presentation on the amendments, a motion to approve the ordinance was approved unanimously. There appeared to be no further communication on the matter. In the course of a few minutes, new “amendments” were approved with little or no discussion during this public hearing. These amendments deleted previous limitations to wind turbines, stated “no limitations” on height and altered language important to decibel and positioning of these structures. Without diligent research, anyone attending would have failed to learn much about the content of the ordinance amendments. Just to find the notice of this public meeting takes diligence to locate it in the small print of the classifieds in the Pharos Tribune. It’s not convenient to take a trip to the government building to read the ordinance before the meeting takes place. In the interest of communicating with as many people as possible, more than one means of communication should be employed. It’s time to use technology to enhance input from and knowledge for those who want to know. Especially, if our officials value the community’s input.
It’s time to readdress the value of our community’s input. I previously mentioned a May 3, 2016 Plan Commission public hearing. We’ve already addressed the communication problem and how attendance may benefit from social media. But what was lacking during that public hearing? Why was it a regurgitation of regulations from the 2016 amendments to the wind ordinance like language, word substitutions and standards? A better use of time would have quantified those regulations, defined them as they pertain to topics as simple as roadway impact, numbers of turbines per field and waterway protection, for example. Even if people read the online ordinance, it doesn’t mean they thoroughly understand and how many people in our community know ordinance numbers without looking them up? I am not a turbine engineer. The vocabulary is unfamiliar. I may need clarification. Any time that can be devoted to communication is an opportunity to educate the community. The minutes for this hearing, and many other discussions since, do not display an appreciation for community input.
It appears that we have a communication breakdown as they relate to wind turbines. I have visited the Commissioners in their office and asked them many questions. Actually, some of what I now know has come directly from them. There were other sources also, such as the ordinance about which I have been speaking, but when I simply fail to see the logic in a topic, I have made my way to their office. In spite of the details from the ordinance, there are more I’d like to know about: I am very curious about how much revenue the county will receive and how it will be dispersed. I am especially worried about our schools and hope they will be beneficiaries of wind farm revenue. Our Cass County ordinance makes no mention of noise levels for our large, commercial turbines but they established a 60-decibel regulation for the smaller non-commercial turbines. However, the wind company assures officials that their commercial turbines will respect a “50 decibel standard” within 50 feet from the nearest corner of a home. Turbine height is not limited in our ordinance except that the FAA’s rules of maximum heights will be followed. However, that leaves turbine height up to the installers and we don’t know what that may be. The commissioners assured me the turbines will be under 700 feet tall. Somehow, it would offer comfort if our officials had taken the initiative to implement our own regulations as they relate to our community rather than depending on a multi-million dollar company to do that for us. Finally, the county’s ordinance allows for a 1000-foot setback of a turbine from the nearest corner of a home. Of course, we cannot supersede the regulations of the FAA but we could have discussed an appropriate height that suited Cass County, as well as discussed decibel levels, and property line limitations. Discussing these matters, would have given this community a role in the planning of this project that does in fact affect us all and yet our role has been minimal. The wind turbine company promises a 1500 foot setback but it is not promised in our Cass County ordinance. An opportunity for our community members to have a cooperative role among the people most affected by living among or near turbines has not been a choice for anyone except those in favor of the wind turbines and the company itself. I ask why can’t this county ordinance be changed? Why not? The Pharos Tribune article dated June 10, 2009 summarized the Plan Commission’s intent to establish ordinance regulations. Arin Shaver, one Cass County official stated that, “...if the ordinance were approved by county commissioners it would still be open to change.It is a living document which can always be changed to meet new concerns.” For this reason alone, I am confident that our officials are capable of doing what is right for our entire community, and doing so in the most transparent manner possible. Because as they’ve noted, these documents are always able to be amended to meet new concerns and these are mine. It’s all about communication. The best way to satisfy the people is to give the people a role in the decision making process led by those whose goal is to best serve the needs of the whole community, and to continue to earn our trust.
— Joyce Pasel is a resident of Logansport