Monday morning the Marshall County Commissioners conducted a public hearing on the ordinance to amend the county’s current zoning ordinance to make it more restrictive for solar farms. It was a full house with many standing at the back of the room.
A dozen people spoke in favor of the current zoning ordinance and the proposed amendments for solar farms. Some of those were farmers who have signed agreements to lease their farm ground. Bonnie Brooker who lives on 12B Road in Culver said, “This project will lower our property taxes and bring in money for our schools, our library, our townships, and our county. How can you turn down this kind of money and how can you take this money away from me as a landowner?”
Marianne Peters, Director of the Marshall County Solid Waste told the commissioners that solar panels are not considered hazardous. She said simple products like chlorine and pool chemicals are more dangerous and require special handling. She said the panels are being recycled due to the aluminum, steel, glass and silicon in them.
During the 90-minute public hearing 14 people spoke against the proposed ordinance amendment including Casey Neidlinger who lives on 14B Road in Culver. He asked the commissioners if they had thought about the impact of 12,000 acres of solar panels and the impact the water they shed will have on the Yellow River. With seasonably flooding he also wanted to know how maintenance would be handled when solar panels are installed over drainage tiles.
Joe Allen, who lives on Thorn Road in Culver told the commissioners community members are engaged and listening. He says transparency has not existed and communication hasn’t been forthcoming during this 3-year process. Allen also said there are conflicts of interest, with at least one being over 2-years in the process and voting on the issues and that those votes should be void. He requested a 2-year moratorium which several others asked the commissioners to consider. He said, “Integrity must be adhered to in order to make the best decisions for this community and the people that live here. Your job, your responsibility is very simple, make decisions that are in the best interest of this community and the people that reside here and I’m saying today that you have not.”
Commissioner Stan Klotz commented, “I don’t care if you are for or against solar. This is a bad deal. This is absolutely a horrible deal. Anybody that’s going to come to Marshall County with a project needs to be financially responsible for what they are doing.” He also said the proposed ordinance doesn’t go far enough.
Commissioner Mike Burroughs reminded those in attendance that a committee was put together and negotiated the current ordinance which was approved by the Plan Commission with a 7-0 vote and a 3-0 vote by the commissioners. He said, “The desires of farmers both for and against have been well publicized. I’m of the opinion you can find anything you want on the internet, both for or against if you look hard enough.” He continued saying that a moratorium won’t get us any further.
Commissioner Kevin Overmyer said this is a tough decision. He said the Plan Commission voted 8-1 on the amendments to the current zoning ordinance which are more restrictive than what is currently in place. Overmyer said, “To me, this isn’t promoting solar or not promoting solar. This is an ordinance that we are putting in place for the regulations for whoever is coming into Marshall County to abide by these rules.”
Overmyer motioned to pass the ordinance amendments on second reading but failed to get a second and therefore died.
That doesn’t mean it is a dead issue. County Attorney Jim Clevenger said the issue is not finished. He said since the commissioners didn’t accept, amend or reject the ordinance presented there is a 90-day period which started January 3rd. If no further action is taken by the commissioners, the proposed amendments will go into effect.