KALIDA — Two weeks after voting five-to-one against a request by KMI Inc. for the construction of two wind turbines, Kalida council members found themselves facing business and industry representatives from their community at their meeting on Monday.
The votes were cast at the May 19 meeting, a meeting attended largely by residents opposed to the project. Although some of the former were seated or standing in the municipal building and in the adjacent fire hall Monday evening, a number of the individuals were present to recognize KMI for its positive impact on Kalida. Others expressed concerns about how the vote on the KMI project was contrary to the public input.
After an approval of bills, Mayor Alan Gerdemann recognized the audience and invited Ron Kahle to speak. Kahle presented a list of 60 Kalida businesses who wished to offer support for KMI's presence. Kevin Kahle of B & K Tool Inc., followed, stating that he should have supported KMI's project weeks ago
"I keep hearing from the community, and even surrounding communities, and everybody's question is, 'We thought that was a done deal.' The community voted on this and it overwhelmingly passed," he said. "They want to know what was the change behind it. I'm curious to understand the details myself."
Council member Jason Birkemeier's offered an interpretation of the wind turbine issue as it was posed to Village of Kalida voters on the 2012 ballot.
"A lot of it is perception; I understand that," he said. "But the language that we put on the ballot was 'Shall construction and operation of wind turbines be allowed in industrial-zoned areas of the village of Kalida with the prior approval of the village council?'
"As council, when we put that issue on the ballot, we were looking at a change to an ordinance that was already in place, that had given us little opportunity at all to put wind turbines in the village," he said. "What we were looking for was a voice from the community. Should we even entertain that at some point down the road? We took that 65 percent vote in favor and we made those changes to the ordinance."
Birkemeir further explained that the vote gave council the power to determine when the construction of wind turbines is appropriate.
Denny Kerner, proprietor of the On the Square Café, expressed concern about information presented to council at its last meeting that may have swayed their vote.
"Did any of you council members do any studying of this project, besides out-of-state, internet research?" he asked. "Did you go to Van Wert and personally talk to anybody who lives under these things? Did you walk under them? Did you hear them? I'm hoping that you guys voted for the benefit of the village."
Council member Bob Buss said that he did go to Van Wert. He stated that his opposition to the proposed wind turbine project stemmed from concerns about property values. Birkemeier said this was the major issue for him, as well.
"If we vote yes, there'd never be a chance to change that," Buss said. "But if we said no, this kind of meeting can take place, we can rehash this and see if it’s the right thing."
Bill Rieman, Kalida School enhancement committee president, Pioneer Day publicity chairman and park board president, said, "Nobody ever said these wind turbines were going to be the be-all, end-all,that KMI was going to close without them. But they need every tool in their bag to be competitive. And this would be one more tool in their bag."
"This community has always been very progressive, very forward-thinking," said Larry Unverferth of Unverferth Manufacturing. "That's how communities grow. We need to keep that in the forefront."
K. Kahle asked if the wind turbine option for KMI is dead.
"Speaking for myself, it's never dead," said Fortman, adding that he would like to talk with Rick Esch, KMI Senior Vice President, about the issue. "Safety is an issue. I've never heard of someone being killed by one and I don't want to hear that."
" We want KMI to be able to do what they do and remain competitive in the global market. Obviously this was one of the methods they were using to get to that point," said K. Kahle. "The trickle-down effect affects every business in this community. What's the business perception for any new business moving into Kalida?"
Gerdeman said he intends to set up a meeting with Esch, a meeting which will include a council member, to discuss possible ways that the wind turbine project could be redesigned for council's consideration. Esch was not present during Monday's meeting.
"I think if they change the configuration of the turbines, relocate them, buy some more property to get them further out, whatever, I think council would consider another project," said Gerdeman. "I think we also have to get some sort of endorsement from nearby property owners, since there are no hard facts about property values either way. It's not shut out. If Unverferth wanted to present a similar proposal, council would consider it. That's what the ordinance was for. It's 'projects', not 'project'