By Tammy Watts
GREENVILLE — The Darke County Parks District Board of Commissioners met on Jan. 13 at 6 p.m., two hours later than usual, so that more community members could attend. Local residents filled the board room in order to learn where the Parks Commission stands in the process of rescinding three easement agreements with Apex Clean Energy, for the proposed Painter Creek Solar project.
Parks Commissioner John Cook stated that he and Parks Director Roger Van Frank had met with their attorney, who is still researching the legal details. “It’s a lot more complicated than we thought,” Cook said.
Fran Chrisman, speaking for the Darke County Citizens Preservation Association (DCCPA) questioned why the Parks Commissioners had not contacted one of the five attorneys, who have expertise in real estate law, provided by the group.
“We are stewards of the county’s money, and we already have our local attorney on retainer,” answered Parks Commissioner Tina White, explaining that seeking the advice of a different attorney would require payment of another retainer. “We have an experienced attorney who knows the resources to look into.”
Parks Commissioners reiterated that they did not know the scope of the proposed solar project, and treated it simply as a utility company request. Cook maintained that they were under the impression the project would be small in scale, and directly benefit Arcanum, and some smaller Darke County villages.
“We knew it was solar, we knew it was Apex,” White added.
“Did you research Apex?” asked Jerry Miller, echoing the sentiment of many in the audience.
The three agreements, available in the County Recorder’s Office, state that the easements covering the property are for construction and installation of both solar panels, and transmission facilities. When asked if their attorney had reviewed the documents before they were signed, Parks Commissioners affirmed that he had.
“So the same attorney who looked it over and advised you to sign it, is the same one who is supposed to get you out of it?” several in the audience asked at once.
“If farmers want to sign on, so be it, but you’re a public entity. With all the donations the community has made, and all the levies, we’ve passed, I’m disappointed and angry,” said Jim Heiser.
While those against the solar project respect individual property rights of signers, legal precedents exist which protect the rights of adjoining property owners as well. In Brownsey v. General Printing Ink Corp. (1937) the court determined that a landowner’s use becomes unlawful if it constitutes an appropriation of the adjoining land, and if it deprives the adjoining owner “reasonable enjoyment of his/her property to a material degree.”
Many property owners adjacent to the project started receiving letters encouraging them to sign Good Neighbor Agreements in December 2021, with some residents stating that they had been approached as early as January 2020. The Daily Advocate has obtained Good Neighbor Agreements for solar projects in nearby counties. By signing, residents receive compensation by agreeing not to oppose any solar related project with an output greater than 500 kilowatts within five miles of the project. Furthermore, the property owner has to acknowledge that glare, noise, electromagnetic and frequency interference, or inconvenience from construction may negatively impact their property.
Joyce Conrad, whose property will be surrounded on three sides, should the solar project be approved, is prone to migraines, triggered by glare. Given the number of solar panels and the proximity to her home, she worries it will be a detriment to her health.
The commissioners were asked if they truly wanted to rescind the agreements, and when they did not provide a “yes” or “no” answer, two gentlemen walked out of the meeting. “We have to stay neutral as a board,” stated White, adding that other local residents had contacted her, requesting that the easement agreements stand. When asked why the said residents had contacted the board privately, rather than discuss their position at the public forum, White replied, “Visit the (DCCPA) Facebook page; the tone is hateful, and I would be afraid to walk into this meeting if I were them.”
The DCCPA Facebook page, which now has more than 1,100 members, mostly shares articles and studies pertaining to negative impacts of solar farms. It also networks with groups in other counties, where similar projects have been proposed, and posted the link to a website listing multiple lawsuits filed against Apex Clean Energy in Illinois and Oklahoma. The theft of 15 “No Solar” signs in the area of US Routes 127/36 West, and 121 South, was also discussed on the page.
According to Fran Chrisman, only four DCCPA members were at the meeting; the rest of the audience consisted of individuals who have recently become aware of the solar project’s potential impact on the community as a whole.
Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts can be reached at [email protected]