Progress Editor

PAULDING – A judge has ruled against a group of Paulding County landowners and others who sued the State of Ohio last fall over windfarm setback mandates.

Last November, county residents Barbara Jean Morris of Paulding, Ronnie and Victoria Kadesch of Paulding and Richard King of Payne and the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition filed a lawsuit in Paulding County Common Pleas Court against the State of Ohio.

They alleged the Ohio General Assembly violated the state constitution when, in 2014, it passed an amendment in House Bill 483 that dramatically increased minimum setback distances for new wind turbines.

The bill is currently included in Ohio Revised Code 4906.20.

The plaintiffs claimed the current setbacks “will continue to harm development and deprive local landowners and communities of the substantial economic and environmental benefits of wind energy.”

The suit hinged on the plaintiffs’ argument that the HB 483 amendment was contained in a totally unrelated piece of legislation, which violated the “single subject” rule.

The single subject rule in the Ohio Constitution states that “no bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.” The purpose of this rule is to prevent the legislature from engaging in “logrolling” – the practice of combining unrelated proposals to appeal to legislators that may support the entire proposal in order to secure some part of it.

One month after the suit was filed, the State of Ohio, through the Ohio Attorney General’s office, motioned for the court to dismiss the lawsuit “for failure to state a claim.”

The defendants contended that the wind turbine setback provision was part of a single subject – conditions for the operations of state programs.

In his decision, filed on Aug. 7, Judge Routson wrote, “Whether R.C. 4906.20 was enacted as part of an arguably anti-democratic process is not the critical question. the decisive question is whether R.C. 4906.20 shares the common purpose of the bill.

“Regulating the location of energy generating facilities is clearly a function of state government. Regardless of how this provision made it into law, establishing setback limits for new wind turbines falls squarely within that purpose of creating conditions for the operation of state programs.

“Under the broad deferential standard of review due this form of legislation, as a matter of law only, this court cannot conclude that R.C. 4906.20 falls outside at least one of the stated purposes of the bill. Therefore, R.C. 4906.20 is a constitutional enactment.”

In conclusion, Routson stated ... “the Court finds beyond a doubt that Plaintiffs can prove no set of facts, which, when construed most favorably to the Plaintiffs, would entitle them to recover. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint is granted.”

Costs were assessed against the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit had wide implications across the state. A ruling for the plaintiffs would have opened Ohio to new wind farm development, brought an estimated $4 billion in local economic investment, created thousands of jobs and powered nearly a million Ohio homes. In addition, more rural land owners would be able to earn annual lease payments of up to $15,000 per wind turbine.

The case grew in complexity in December as a group of 49 Seneca County residents filed a motion to join the lawsuit, which was granted in March despite the objections of the plaintiffs.

Also in December, the Ohio Environmental Council filed an amicus curiae brief in opposition of the State’s motion to dismiss, which was later granted.

In March, resident Judge Tiffany Beckman disqualified herself from the case. Instead, the Supreme Court of Ohio assigned Judge Reginald J. Routson of Hancock County to preside.

In April, Routson issued an order overruling the plaintiff’s motions to convert the matter into a motion for summary judgment. All parties were given the opportunity to file a written request for oral arguments, but no requests were filed.