It’s a property rights issue, and whose rights involving property will be preeminent is the crucial issue
Property rights have emerged as a major issue at the center of the wind turbine debate in Seneca County. The issue has several facets, depending on one’s point of view.
Farmers and owners of cropland argue it’s their right to earn a living from the land in any way they choose, while the owners of smaller parcels of land say it’s their right to maintain their property values, which they say would decrease if wind turbines were built nearby.
Still another viewpoint comes from people who have purchased land within the wind farm’s proposed footprint in the last 10 years. There are questions about whether leases remain valid, in some cases. They have chosen to prevent Seneca Wind contractors to enter their property to gather pre-construction information. Those matters are being considered in the court system.
Two proposed wind farm projects are in the works in Seneca County — Seneca Wind Farm and Republic Wind Farm. In addition, Emerson Creek Wind Farm has proposed turbines for Huron and Erie counties along the eastern edge of Seneca County.
If approved, the proposed projects would place wind turbines in the eastern part of the county designed to generate electricity using wind power. Both are in the process of requesting a certificate from the Ohio Power Siting Board that would allow construction to begin.
“I firmly believe landowner rights is an issue, and that goes both ways,” said Gary Baldosser, a farmer and landowner with a lease to place wind turbines on his property. “Landowner rights should be applied equally both ways.
“If anybody feels like they’re being inhibited in any way, they have the right to defend themselves against an issue they feel is discriminating against them,” Baldosser said.
In his viewpoint, he said, he has a right to earn an income from his land in any legal way he chooses.
“If I have somebody in the community that is allergic to corn pollen, do they have the right to keep me from planting corn on my farm?” he said. “Can they restrict what I can do to make a profit on my farm?”
Baldosser said farmers need to make a living off the land and there aren’t many options available.
“Agriculture was depressed back when this issue started,” he said. “Farm income rose for two or three years and now we are back to an extremely depressed time for agriculture.
“The economics behind this seem so simple, I don’t understand why people are choosing not to participate,” he said.
He said township coffers also are affected by ag’s economic downturns.
“What other opportunities have arisen to townships that are not taxpayer-based?” he said. “There just isn’t any infrastructure there to entice anybody to come and build a factory, so what else can we do?”
Anne Fry, a pro-wind Bloom Township resident, said she would have a turbine about a half mile from her house and she doesn’t see a problem with it.
“It’s a good thing for the area,” she said. “I don’t mind looking at them.”
She said many of the pro-wind people want to remain in the background, but she doesn’t mind talking about her reasons for wanting wind turbines.
“It’s clean, renewable, green energy,” she said.
She said she and her husband, a Bloom Township trustee, have a lease on their property.
“We signed up probably 11 years ago,” she said. “I thought it was a going to be a great thing for this area.”
As a retired teacher at Seneca East, Fry said she and her husband chose to invest in land as another source of income for their family.
She also sees the money the schools will receive as being beneficial because Seneca East and other schools are largely dependent on property taxes.
Fry said she grew up in New York near the Niagara Falls power center, and the school she attended received the benefits.
“I thought every school in America had the same things I did growing up,” she said. “Then I came here and saw the difference in funding — what urban schools had in relation to what we had in the country.”
Fry said every form of income had its disadvantages.
Schools near Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station get a financial benefit from the plant, but people who live nearby have had to live with the knowledge they could be affected if there was an issue with the nuclear plant.
“I feel more confident and safe with wind turbines,” she said. “My whole love of bringing something to this side of the county is the financial benefit. I would just love to see this area have a little benefit.”
Although she understands the feelings of other people in the area, she said she and her husband are considerate of their neighbors. She said she can hear her neighbor’s grain dryer down the road and she hears trains on the tracks frequently.
“It’s just a concession that you make for living in the country,” she said.
Fry said she’s been awaiting the turbines for years.
“I was just so excited about it,” she said. “I thought it was going to be a great thing. I was taken aback by how opposed some people are.”
When she started to hear there was opposition, Fry said she thought maybe she was missing something and began to research the topic. She visited areas that have wind turbines in Paulding and Van Wert counties and other areas.
“We stopped and talked to people,” she said. “We went last week to Van Wert and talked to people. One man in Paulding County said he had five on his farm and he’s had no problems.”
To Fry, the economic benefits outweigh any negatives other people might see.
“If you can get some help from outside economic sources, why not?” she said. “I guess I see more positives than negatives.”
On the other side of the debate, Greg Smith, Bloom Township resident and spokesman for Seneca Anti-Wind Union, said he understands the farmers’ viewpoint, but he said he also has property rights.
“If you’re doing something that affects me, that violates my property rights,” he said.
Smith said wind turbines would change the way he can use his property.
“You’re using my property as part of your setback,” he said. “Don’t violate my property rights with the effects of something you’re doing on your property.”
At the meeting in April 2018, Smith said he discovered there would be 18 wind turbines within a mile and a half of his house.
“This became a very personal fight,” he said. “When you’re fighting for your quality of life you become passionate. We’ve put are heart and soul in this.”
At the same meeting, Chris Aichholz, also of Bloom Township, said he can’t imagine walking out his front door and seeing a 650-foot wind turbine a quarter mile away.
“There would be 23 or 24 turbines within two miles of my home,” Aichholz said. “My wife and I made a significant investment in our property. We said we were going to raise our family in Seneca County. If we had known this was going on, there’s just no way we would have invested in the county. We would not have planted permanent roots.
“The day that first turbine gets hauled in here is the day I’m going to think about selling,” he said. “And we’ve got pretty strong roots here.”
Also, Smith and Aichholz said plans would place 20 turbines within two miles of Seneca East’s school building, putting children at risk of the claimed negative health effects of turbines every day they’re at school.
Aichholz said a man in the Van Wert area has researched and assembled information from real estate sales from before and after the wind farm was built, and results showed property now sells for “significantly less” than it did before the wind farm went in.
Some estimates show property value decreases of 25-40 percent.
Wind opponents say property values and quality of life would be affected by shadow flicker as the turbines turn in the sun, an increase in noise levels, the unknown effects of sound below the level of human hearing and the loss of the area’s scenic views.