Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Two days after Senate Bill 52 took effect in Ohio, Highland County commissioners introduced a plan for “designated exclusion zones” for solar development during their Wednesday, Oct. 13 meeting.

As previously reported, Senate Bill 52 was introduced “to amend sections … of the Revised Code to permit a board of county commissioners to prevent power siting board certification of certain wind and solar facilities, to provide for ad hoc members of the power siting board and to establish decommissioning requirements for certain wind and solar facilities.” The legislation was signed into law by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Monday, July 12.

According to the bill’s text, one of its provisions is that a board of county commissioners may pass a resolution designating “a restricted area of the unincorporated area of a county,” where a “utility facility” may be prohibited.

“Senate Bill 52 became law on the 11th of October,” commissioner David Daniels said. “We’ve been trying to determine what our options are as far as what the law allows us to do.

“One of the things it allows us to do is designate exclusion zones in unincorporated areas of the county.”

He outlined a “process” that the commission has drafted for consideration of designating an exclusion zone, which is similar to the steps described in SB 52. According to a handout from the commissioners’ office, a request for such a designation “must be made by resolution by a unit of local government” — a village, city or township — that “will, in detail, show the area to be designated.”

That “unit of local government” is also required to conduct a public hearing about the request and provide “a transcription” of the hearing to commissioners.

“The unit of local government will notify all entities by mail that would receive property tax or a portion of a PILOT [Payment in Lieu of Taxes] payment inside the zone,” the handout says. “A majority of those entities must approve of the designation with a letter of support or board resolution.

“The unit of local government shall notify all property owners inside the area by mail and inform them that a restricted zone is being considered. A majority of property owners of 10 acres or more must approve the zone with a letter of support.”

Once those steps are completed, “if the commissioners believe the restricted zone is appropriate, they shall adopt by resolution” such a designation, according to the handout.

“Since we’re limiting somebody’s ability to lease and/or sell their property, we feel that there needs to be a public process,” Daniels said. “We want to make sure everybody is understanding of the process and make sure everyone has the ability to be heard through the process.

“We have other responsibilities as far as [SB] 52 is concerned. We’re still trying to work through some of the processes along those lines. This is kind of an initial outline of what the exclusion zone process will look like.”

Daniels added that the commission “can exclude projects up front, and I think that we still need to consider under what conditions we would do those things.”

“We’ve heard from a lot of different people,” Daniels said. “We’re trying to take all those comments and all those concerns into consideration and balance that against the rights of the people that are leasing and selling their property. It’s a work in progress, more to come.”

Daniels and commissioner Terry Britton also noted that an “exclusion zone” could be virtually any size, ranging from a particular road or small area to even “an entire township.”

“There are implications with power siting,” Daniels said. “There are facilities that we have no control over as a result of [SB] 52. It does not allow us to give any kind of approval over projects under 50 megawatts. We’re still trying to figure out what our responsibilities and what our options are, as far as that’s concerned, to address the concerns that we’ve heard from people.”

Commission president Jeff Duncan said the commission will “continue to work on” developing plans in response with SB 52. “We’re still learning,” he said.

“There’s multiple steps to Senate Bill 52,” Britton added. “We’re working on each of those steps. This is the first of that part.”

In other discussion, Duncan announced that lot paving and striping projects at the Hi-TEC building as well as the Highland County Administration Building have been completed in the past week.

Commissioners also approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within N-07, Leesburg Industrial Park in the amount of $1,250.

• A request for an additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue to County Court – Computer in the amount of $99,085.

• An additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue to County Airport – Other Expense in the amount of $13,000.

• A request for an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds in the amount of $3,065.98.

• A request for an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to Recycling Grant, Q-01, in the amount of $3,500.

Not discussed during the meeting, but included on the agenda, were several items of correspondence.

• Christal McNeil-Wright, Associate Chief Financial Officer of the United States Department of Justice Grant Financial Management Division, notified commissioners that two previous grants from 2014 and 2016 and “associated questioned costs” have been “administratively closed.”

As previously reported, the awarding of an $843,498 U.S. Department of Justice grant for the Rocky Fork Lake region was announced Oct. 5, 2016, which followed an October 2014 grant of $100,000 through the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program’s effort to reduce crime in designated communities.

Commissioners later voted Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 to reject the 2016 grant, saying they would “notify the Department of Justice that we will forgo this grant and begin the process of closing it out."

According to the letter from the DOJ dated Oct. 1, the “questioned cost balance” of the 2016 grant was $3,432.

“Please note that should Highland County apply for future awards, the conditions listed … will apply,” the letter said.

Those “conditions” include requirements for the commission to “develop and implement written financial policies and procedures specific to managing federal grants … [and] timely response on follow-ups;” to “develop a corrective action plan for any outstanding questioned costs (if applicable);” to “submit a copy of the implemented policies and procedures to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for review and approval;” and to “provide evidence of an inactive grant high-risk status.”

• Commissioners received 12 form letters residents in Dodson and Hamer Township asking them not to grant a PILOT for the proposed Dodson Creek solar project.

• Commissioners received four emails in favor of solar facilities.

• The commission also received an email questioning whether local “rules and guidance” related to Senate Bill 52 had been developed.

• Dylan Borchers of Bricker & Eckler sent notification that the law firm’s “representation of Highland County commissioners has concluded in regards to representation of the county in all matters involving the Willowbrook Solar Project and Highland Solar Farm.”

• R.D. Holder Oil Company sent a copy of a letter to customers about acquiring Hartley Oil.

• The commissioners office received copies of the Highland County 2020 Cost Allocation Plan in accordance with Federal Circular 2 CFR Part 200 from Maximus Financial Services.