Area Plan Commission hears from homeowners
WANDA ENGLISH BURNETT PHOTOS
At the Area Plan Commission meeting held last week, every seat was taken in the Commissioner’s Room at the Courthouse Annex in Versailles, and people were standing. Most were there in response to the proposed Ripley County Solar Energy Systems Ordinance.
Tad Brinson, executive director of the Commission said there has been one other time it was that crowded.
Those representing towns and entities in county government have been appointed by their respective unit and eight of them were in attendance: Jennifer Miller, Jerry Reed, Justin Payne, Marc Salyers, Steve Youngman, Jeff French, Jim Negangard and Jim Waldo.
While the Plan Commission is regularly assisted by County Attorney John Ertel, he stepped down for this due to his involvement on a personal level. Attorney Patrick Magrathfrom Jefferson County was retained.
Micah Lohrum, owner of Lohrum Electrical, spoke asking those opposing to consider solar energy, something he has embraced from the beginning. He gave a well-prepared speech and had done his homework on the ordinance the Commission was considering adopting. He felt it was not broad enough and needed quite a bit of work. He submitted paperwork and the offer of a professional to help with the ordinance.
Sister Clare Whalen spoke next urging everyone to accept solar energy. She backed Lohrum and said she has seen first-hand the power of solar.
But, many more in the room did not agree with the wind turbines and said they would devalue the adjoining property where they are placed. “We understand new ideas,” Erin Eckerle said, “but, we don’t think this is progress to our community.”
Blaine Timonera, attorney for several landowners in the area near Batesville, spoke. He said the landowners are not categorically opposed to solar energy. They simply want the ordinance to protect their property. He asked the Plan Commission to check other surrounding counties’ ordinance concerning the matter. “It’s not a simple task. Look at the others.” He noted that some are 39 pages long and this one is only seven pages. He felt there was a lot left out of the one Ripley County is looking at.
Throughout his over 15 minutes, Timonera referred to many things Lohrum had proposed in his initial talk and said he agreed with them. He asked for protection for the towns and cities involved and for those in charge to look at the cost of decommissioning the units if the company goes “belly-up”.
Who enforces the maintenance and ongoing inspections of the wind towers? “Enforcement is big when we have a David and Goliath situation such as this one,” Timonera noted. He said the companies wanting to come in may not have an obligation to the end process.
Tristan Wheeler with Nextera Energy Resources, LLC, Juno Beach, FL, spoke to the group saying his company was the one wanting to come into Ripley County. Wheeler said he is willing to talk with anyone about the situation and give more specifics on what their company is all about. “We want to work together,” Wheeler told the group, saying solar has a lot of benefits. “Everyone has a voice that matters,” he said.
Also speaking at the meeting was Jacob Everett, State Director for Indiana Center for Infrastructure and Economic Development. He said overall, the ordinance for Ripley County looked good. He gave a few recommendations that would protect the county.
Near the end of the meeting, Attorney Magrath noted that the state’s model ordinance is less restrictive than the one Ripley County has proposed.
The Commission said they will look at the ordinance and take everything into consideration before passing it on to the Ripley County Commissioners, who will have the final vote.