The Henry County Courthouse is typically closed Mondays, but a special meeting took place there this week.
Impassioned speeches echoed down the tiled halls and applause flowed down the staircase as county residents reiterated why they don’t want industrial wind turbines in their backyards.
The Henry County Commissioners scheduled two evening meetings – four hours each, Monday and Tuesday – to allow the public to share their thoughts on the county’s ordinance regulating wind energy conversion systems (WECS).
The current section of the Henry County Development Code that deals with WECS is under public scrutiny. It has been the subject of a court argument challenging its validity as the law of the land since May.
The Henry County Planning Commission has said in recent months that it cannot revisit the ordinance because of the pending litigation.
The commissioners decided that taking a look at the ordinance won’t impact the court proceedings.
Butch Baker, president of the board of county commissioners, explained to those attending Monday’s meeting that each person would have a 10 minute time limit, unless they had a presentation, in which case their time would get bumped up to 20 minutes.
New Castle business owner Gary Rodgers told the commissioners that he had recently sold his Henry County home because of the impending wind farms.
“I sold my property and I moved out of county in order that you cannot take my property,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers argued that the current laws violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because, he claims, they unlawfully take away property from people who haven’t signed contracts with the wind companies.
“They speak to the rights of private property, that people are to be safe in their houses and that their properties can’t be taken from them without just cause and without compensation,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said landowners who lease part of the grounds to wind energy companies are free and willing to give up the usage of their land in exchange for whatever the wind company offers them.
The effects of industrial wind turbines extend beyond the property setbacks in Henry County, Rodgers argued.
“These are real harms, and they do real damage, and it takes real property away from non-participating property owners who are nearby,” Rodgers told the commissioners.
He asked the commissioners to use rigorous review to create a strong ordinance to uphold the Constitution and the Indiana Code.
“We expect you to stand up and protect the people of Henry County,” Rodgers said in closing.
Local educator and New Castle resident Kenon Gray also spoke before the Henry County Commissioners during the hearing. Gray liked the idea of large-scale wind power until he discovered that a turbine might go up across the street from his house.
“I thought, well, maybe I’d better do some research,” Gray said, “because I’m hearing some humdrum that this may not be as green and as clean as I initially thought.”
Gray said industrial wind turbines can potentially affect neighboring lands similar to the way confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) do.
“It’s not worth the health risks that come with it,” Gray told the Henry County Commissioners. “Do we trade away health, safety, and property values for short-term wind money? ... Press pause until these concerns are addressed would be my plea.”
Amber Ritchie identified herself as “one of the few in this county who know what it’s like to live next to an industrial turbine.”
Ritchie said she and her husband have suffered from headaches, tinnitus and sleep disturbances since the 300 foot turbine at Shenandoah schools went live in 2013. They also experience nausea and migraines.
The Middletown resident also pointed out that more rural homes in Henry County are sitting on land that is zoned for agricultural use, not residential. The current wind turbine setbacks are shorter for ag properties than residential.
Ritchie called this “trespass zoning.”
“Why has our county government not zoned our homes properly to protect us?” Ritchie asked. “Don’t be fooled: This is not about saving the Earth. It’s about the all-mighty dollar.”
The commissioners also heard comments from residents about the proposed WECS ordinance that citizens had drafted to replace the current one. This ordinance would include, among other changes, a setback not less than 2,640 feet or 6.5 times the height of the turbine.
The citizen-drafted ordinance would also include language to protect cities and towns, parks, protected lands, schools, hospitals, and airports.