Plan director scrutinized; Wind farm opposition: Cowles colluded with RES
Posted on March 20, 2018
Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).
(The following article originally was published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.)
BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel
Fulton County Plan Director Casi Cowles said she seeks expertise when writing ordinances that pertain to specific land uses.
She’s under fire from an anonymous citizen and others opposed to a wind farm proposal. They say she colluded with Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, as it worked to develop Harvest Wind Energy LLC wind farm in Fulton County.
The claims against Cowles are that she allowed RES to write part of the county’s ordinance and did not provide county officials enough information to make an educated decision or cast a vote with citizens’ health, safety and well-being in mind. A letter to the editor on the matter appears on Page 4 of today’s Sentinel. It is based largely on a massive public records request for the communications of county officials.
The first claim comes from an August 2017 email she received from Brad Lila, director of development for RES. The subject line of the email is “Additional Changes to Wind Ordinance.” It shows strike-throughs where RES engineers changed the wording in the county’s ordinance for turbine braking systems. The company’s exact wording was later put into the ordinance.
“I allowed Kenny Anderson to write part of the ordinance, too, if you want to word it that way,” Cowles said in response to the claim. “I’ve allowed elected officials of the Republican Party to write part of the ordinance, if that was their expertise. I’ve allowed contractors to write part of the ordinance.”
She noted how Anderson had previously come to her asking for the definition of an industrialized house to be changed in the county’s ordinance.
“I read it, I passed it through the attorney, I said, ‘You know what, I see your point, I think you’re right, I will give it to the board,’” she said. “The board agreed, so Kenny Anderson wrote part of our ordinance.”
She went on to say that Lila contacted her about the section on controls and brakes for turbines, saying it was outdated. She said she asked if he could provide better language, adding that’s how the email originated.
She said she handed a copy of the suggested change to Area Plan Commission President Eric Straeter, who reportedly took no issue with the proposal. It was then reviewed and approved by the plan commission, she said.
“I don’t vote on any of it. I present options to the board, and they choose,” she said. “I didn’t let [RES] write anything more than I do anybody else.”
She noted anyone can suggest a change to the county’s ordinance. While there are times she agrees with suggested amendments, she said she would not be an advocate for an individual or company.
“My job is to provide information to the board on amendments that I feel are needed,” she said.
Critics of Cowles’ actions also allege she failed to provide county officials information about counties with longer setbacks and provided no scientific data to support that a 1,200-foot setback from a home is sufficient.
The RES project would have brought more than 130 wind turbines to Wayne, Liberty, Union and Rochester townships in Fulton County. However, the project was brought to a halt in Fulton County after Commissioners Bryan Lewis and Rick Ranstead signed a resolution in December 2017 that prohibits commercial wind turbines in the county.