The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

Top 10: Wind energy fail; leaders change

Editor’s note: The Van Wert independentis doing a series of articles on what staff members have identified as the top 10 news stories of 2018. The series will run through New Year’s Day and include stories that have generated the most interest from the community and/or involved important local institutions or people. Today’s article features the No. 6 and No. 5 stories of the year.

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

No new wind turbines will be built in Van Wert County in the near future with the decision to end work on the proposed Long Prairie Wind Farm. VW independent file photo

The No. 6 story is the announcement on October 28 by John Arehart of Apex Clean Energy Inc. that the company would be disinvesting from the Long Prairie Wind project.

The story is important no matter what one thinks of wind energy. Those who didn’t want wind turbines next to them were likely elated at the news, while county school districts and other entities that stood to benefit from the millions of dollars the wind farm would have brought to the county were likely disappointed at the announcement.

Although there was active opposition to wind energy in the county, the lack of movement by the Ohio General Assembly to change state setback regulations was likely a more important factor in the company’s decision to disinvest in the wind farm project it purchased in 2014.

The announcement capped a prolonged struggle to build a second wind farm in the southern and western portion of the county following construction of the Blue Creek Wind Farm, which was built in 2011 in the northern portion of the county.

Despite the fact that the Blue Creek project currently provides more than $2 million in financial benefits to county school districts and other county organizations, as well as a similar amount in lease fees to local landowners — and in fact is the largest single economic development benefactor in the county — resistance grew among rural residents and government officials to having a second wind farm in the county. After first establishing an alternative energy zone to make it easier for wind projects to be constructed, county commissioners rescinded that entity in 2013, with statements at the time seemingly indicating that county officials felt it had been a mistake to create the zone.

That, coupled with the state’s legislature’s refusal to change strict setback rules for such projects, ended chances for another such project locally.

Ironically, the situation in neighboring Paulding County is 180 degrees from that seen locally, with county officials there applauding the 2018 development of a new wind farm that will serve automaker General Motors. A group of Paulding County farmers also filed a lawsuit against the state in 2018 seeking to have more favorable wind energy setbacks restored.

The No. 5 story includes leadership changes — and a pending leadership change — at various organizations in the county.

The first change was a positive one for Van Wert City Schools, which hired a new superintendent in February seven months after the resignation of Ken Amstutz, who had led the district for a decade before announcing his decision to move on. Fortunately, Staci Kaufman, who had recently retired as superintendent of Vantage Career Center in 2017, stepped in to provide valuable district leadership as interim superintendent of Van Wert City Schools until the hiring of veteran school official Vicki Brunn as a permanent replacement.

In addition, Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Susan Munroe announced her resignation from that position in July after seven years to take a national job promoting renewable energy projects across the U.S. Munroe had come to the Chamber when it was losing members — and its focus — and turned the organization around, increasing membership and developing new activities and events, as well as rejuvenating existing events.

Mark Verville was hired as president/CEO to replace her.

Crestview Superintendent Mike Estes, who had led that district for a decade, also announced that he would not be renewing his contract with that school district when it came up in 2018. After a superintendent’s search, Kathy Mollenkopf, the district’s elementary principal, was hired as superintendent.

The most recent change won’t take place until 2019, but may be the most bittersweet of them all, as Paul Hoverman, the only executive director the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio has ever known — and the person most responsible for its success the past 11 years — announced he would be leaving that position in May 2019.

Fortunately, the Van Wert Area Performing Arts Foundation Board of Trustees, the group that oversees operation of the performing arts center, found an excellent replacement in Tafi Stober, the NPAC’s current marketing director.

The hiring also allows for a long transition period in which Hoverman can provide information on the myriad tasks that come with the position, including seeking out new shows for upcoming seasons.

Two county elected positions also turned over in 2018. The first came with the announcement by Van Wert County Treasurer Bev Fuerst that she was retiring in July after 16 years in that position, and 24 years of overall service to the county. Nathan Vandenbroek was chosen to replace Fuerst by the County Republican Central Committee and he was later elected by voters over Democratic challenger Bonnie Thatcher in November.

County Auditor Nancy Dixon, the longest serving county auditor in Ohio, also will serve out her last term in that position this month. Dixon has been county auditor since 1973 — a total of 45 years — and has served in the auditor’s office for nearly six decades: since 1959.

The election win of Republican Phillip Baxter over Dixon’s daughter, Sara Lape, also ended Democrats’ long tenure in that county office.

Tomorrow’s article will be on 2018 Top 10 stories No. 3 and 4.

POSTED: 12/28/18 at 8:58 am. FILED UNDER: News