County reaches settlement in lawsuit

Wind developer plans to build solar park instead

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Montgomery County has reached a settlement with Sugar Creek Wind LLC in a federal lawsuit involving allegations that the county tried to kill a wind farm project years after agreements were signed with the developers.

In an agreement the Board of Commissioners approved Monday, the case will be dismissed and the company will pay the county $15,000 “as partial reimbursement” for attorneys’ fees.

“The commissioners fought long and hard to defend the interests of citizens who overwhelmingly opposed wind energy in Montgomery County,” the board said in a written statement released after the vote was taken.

“With this settlement, the commissioners can now focus their time, attention and resources to projects and initiatives which will create jobs, improve infrastructure and help make Montgomery County a better place to live and work.”

Sugar Creek Wind filed suit Dec. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Indianapolis, accusing the county and the Board of Commissioners of violating agreements signed in 2013 to develop an approximately 250-megawatt wind farm in Madison and Sugar Creek townships after the “political stance” on the project changed.

Developers accused the county of “fast-tracking” a zoning code and passing other ordinances they said made it impossible to obtain a building permit. In response, the county claimed it had evidence the company actively concealed work on the wind farm, citing the observation of construction work and photos of the site on the project’s Web page.

By settling the case, the county can “move forward with our day-to-day stuff that we need to be working on instead of working on this day and night for months and months,” said Jim Fulwider, president of the Board of Commissioners.

Commissioner John Frey said the board “acted as the overwhelming majority of the people that participated in the comprehensive plan had directed us to do, to stop industrial wind farms in Montgomery County.”

“We listened and delivered on what the citizens wanted,” Frey added.

County attorney Dan Taylor called the settlement a “very favorable resolution” of the case.

One of the attorneys representing Sugar Creek Wind in the case, Offer Korin, did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.

After dropping the wind farm project, the company now plans to build a solar park in the county, the commissioners said in their statement. Such interest from developers led the county to pass new zoning regulations for solar energy systems.

“We welcome such development, and we are aware of other energy companies that have projects planned in Montgomery County,” the commissioners said. “These projects will help landowners generate revenue without the adverse impacts associated with wind energy projects.”

The company has yet to announce the project. Under the settlement, the county agrees to “act in good faith” in connection with the solar park’s development and “not to single-out Sugar Creek for disparate negative treatment” due to the wind energy dispute.

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