BELLEFOINTAINE — A statement issued by the Logan County Commissioners on Friday clarifies legal issues surrounding the Scioto Ridge Wind Farm, but does not go so far as to take a stand on the issue as two townships and a village have done to date.
And that didn’t settle so well with those who do not believe their elected officials are doing enough to support those property owners who will have to live next to wind turbines.
Commissioner Dustin Wickersham said the statement came in response to numerous email messages, telephone calls and other public inquiries about Everpower’s plans to build a 300-megawatt wind development in northern Logan and southern Hardin counties.
“It’s important we communicate to a lot of folks because there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Wickersham said. “Folks need to know the process.”
The letter says the commissioners have no say as to whether the project is approved. But if the Ohio Power Siting Board approves the proposal and a request for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) comes to the commissioners, the commissioners say they will have a public hearing at that time.
Everpower spokesman Jason Dagger said the letter is an unbiased and factual look at the project.
“I think the commissioners have a good understanding of the process and have done a fine job explaining it thoroughly and accurately,” Dagger said Friday.
Opponents of the wind development project, however, say the letter’s “only the facts” tone is not what they expect from community leaders.
“The question becomes is it fair to allow some innocent citizens to be subjected to significant quality of life and homestead property value loss for the gain of neighboring land owners …” Zanesfield activist Tom Stacy wrote in reply to the letter.
“Commissioners could stand up and make statements about such issues but they clearly would like to drop it like a hot potato. By saying there are citizens on both sides of the issue, I read between the lines that they feel the less they say the less votes they will lose in their next election cycle. That’s not the kind of leadership Logan County citizens deserve or expect.”
Michael Shepherd, whose home is in the project area, echoed those sentiments.
“The commissioners could have intervened to try and ensure that all residents of Logan County were being adequately represented, no one group was being taken advantage of …” he wrote.
“Without intervention of a local government body, the OPSB in Columbus would be the sole entity charged with looking out for the county. Local government should have been engaged since day one. By not taking an interest in the case it sends a message to the residents that, by not acting, they are by default acting in support of the project.”
On the flip side, three local level governmental bodies have come out recently in opposition to the wind development. The first was the village of Belle Center, followed by McDonald and Taylor Creek townships in Hardin County.
At crux in the issue is whether the county commissioners will approve a payment in lieu of taxes agreement that would avoid the tax process set by law for utility companies.
Everpower has discussed a proposal by which they would pay up to $2.7 million per year to be divided among the affected townships, counties and school districts in lieu of utilities taxes.
According to a Feb. 7 article from the Van Wert Independent, the Blue Creek Wind Farm developer, Iberdrola, paid out more than $2 million to Van Wert County government agencies and schools, making it larger than the next 11 highest taxpaying companies in that county combined.
An additional $666,000 was paid in neighboring Paulding County.
Dagger said a development here would have a similar impact.
“The schools are the big winners here and the county government,” he said. “Certainly all the other tax jurisdictions would receive revenue as well.”
While opponents believe denying the PILOT payment would “discourage” the project, Dagger said the impact of such a decision has not been fully explored.
“The wind farms that are operating in Ohio have PILOTs in place, so we’re not sure we know how the tax would work,” he said. “It could be a detriment to school districts because of the school funding formula, but to be honest, we don’t know what it would look like. But when you can add $2.7 million per year in these townships that would have a major impact.”
The letter states commissioners will seriously consider their course of action if or when a request for a PILOT program is submitted.
“It is our understanding that the developer plans to apply to (Ohio Development Services Agency) for a payment in lieu of taxes, if the project is approved by the OPSB. We have not granted or approved any payment in lieu of taxes for any wind turbine project,” the letter reads.
“In fact, no request for tax exemption or payment in lieu of taxes has been filed with us. If and when we receive a copy of the application from the ODSA, we will seek input from other local taxing entities including townships and school districts. Our office will plan to hold a public meeting, where we will hear public input about the proposed payment in lieu of taxes.”
The letter concludes by encouraging residents with questions or concerns to contact commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 599-7283.
By REUBEN MEES
Bellefontaine Examiner writer