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  • Last modified 106 days ago (June 6, 2019)

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Tilting
at windmills

Never have so many said so much yet been heard by so few. Two days of public testimony about Expedition Wind’s plan for turbines in southern Marion County brought a whirlwind of everything except changed minds this week.

Speaker after speaker droned on, not unlike the swooping hum of a turbine, reading prepared statement after prepared statement.

Once the windiness began to die down, an increasingly soporific audience in Marion’s Community Center began experiencing the déjà vu of two basic speeches, slightly rewritten, being delivered in dizzying fashion, over and over again, not unlike the spinning of the giant fan blades they were talking about.

The positions were simple and set in concrete stronger than turbine bases themselves:

— Wind farms can be significant sources of economic development, and beggars can’t be choosers.

— Wind farms pose as many health and safety risks as there are half-baked Facebook groups or websites and cast an appallingly moving shadow that dishonors generations of homesteaders and the nature in which they homesteaded.

Truth is, both are right. And both are wrong. Like so many things these days, there aren’t just two sides to this particular issue. There are at least three. And few, if any of those testifying, brought up the third side.

As for the first two, it’s true that individual landowners stand to make a fair amount if turbines are installed, and so do the slush funds of local governments.

All this cash blowing around will make its way into other people’s pockets, too, but probably not as often or in as big denominations as proponents say it will.

It also is true there are concerns about health and safety, although most of these are as overblown as the warnings posted on everything in California under a bizarre state law there.

Turbines are nowhere near as dangerous as measles or blue-green algae, to name two other greatly overstated threats. Fearing wind turbines is a bit like New Jersey’s fear of self-service gas stations. Alone in the nation, New Jersey bans them because of health and safety risks. The risks aren’t made up. They just aren’t nearly as serious as New Jersey seems to think.

As you read this, did you know that — statistically — the gravest peril to your life right now is that a giant meteor with strike Earth? It’s true. Mathematically, the likelihood of a giant meteor hitting is extremely small, but the near certainty of outcome if it does makes it the odds-on favorite for greatest risk.

The same sort of math underlies a lot of the estimates of how much the county will benefit financially. It’s not voodoo math per se, but there’s enough magic dust sprinkled on the numbers that believing them in total would be just as impractical as carrying a titanium umbrella to protect against meteors.

No, the real side we need to hear from is the side that rarely makes headlines, spurs rallies, creates social media groups, advertises in print, or lines up to say their peace at public forums. Fortunately, the law is on the side of this position.

We’ve all had our chance to say how wind turbines will bring heaven or hell to Marion County. We’ll never agree which reward is coming, and we’re no longer changing anyone’s minds by arguing our points.

It’s time to settle down and look at this the way duly constituted regulatory authorities do — not as something that is either good or evil but as something that must satisfy various technical requirements. If it does, it will be approved. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

There are rules to this game, and now is not the time to seek to change them with emotional appeals. Let those who understand the rules determine whether they’ve been met.

That means this should be the last time we hear from the pro and anti forces with their sweeping praise or sweeping condemnation for the concept.

We don’t need to repeat this when the topic comes before county commissioners. If the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed, windmills should follow in short order.

There’s absolutely no need for a moratorium or a rush to judgment, and officials who ultimately will make the decision need to quickly evacuate whatever positions they may have held within the pro or anti camps and instead start doing their job of seeing whether the I’s and T’s are dealt with.

It’s worrisome that the anti camp seems to be relying on one particular commissioner to carry dilatory water for them. Listing her as a potential witness in their lawsuit against the project may ultimately necessitate her recusal from whatever eventual vote the commission might take. We’re not at that level yet, but we’re getting perilously close.

The same admonition would be offered for other politicians with “go fever” for the project merely because it offers additional money for the local economy.

The arguments over good vs. evil need to end and the examination of the legal sufficiency of the wind farm proposal needs to begin — not as a shouting match but as a poring over of details.

We’ve all had our say. It’s time to trust in the system we created and let it do its job.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified June 6, 2019

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