Wednesday, August 16, 2006
By John Sharp
of the Journal Star
EUREKA – Woodford County volunteer firefighters are asking for more than eight times as much money originally offered from the developers of a wind farm so they can be trained to combat potential emergencies involving the gigantic turbines.
Fire officials with 13 Woodford County departments requested nearly $125,000 to train a team of volunteer firefighters and purchase equipment.
Some Woodford County officials, however, claim what the firefighters asked for is too high and the $15,000 offered by wind farm developers, Navitas Energy, was generous enough.
“Everyone is out there with their hands out on this thing,” Woodford County Administrator Gregory Jackson said Tuesday regarding some of the attitudes toward the wind farm project. He also was talking about a possible request to have Navitas pay for an attorney’s legal fees while that person represents three county townships in crafting a road agreement with the company.
Under a plan proposed by a host of Woodford County firefighters, $30,000 would be used train 40 firefighters in the operations level of firefighting and $29,000 would be used to train 20 firefighters as technicians.
Only technicians are certified to conduct rescue missions on the 400-foot turbines, which are considerably taller than Peoria’s 29-story Twin Towers building.
There is currently no one in Woodford County who has completed all of the training.
In addition, the proposal calls for $45,435 to buy individual fire rescue kits for 10 departments, $20,385 for additional equipment at the wind farm’s site and $10,000 in portable radios.
“We’re concerned about safety,” said Spring Bay Fire Chief Dennis Perry, who is also president of the county’s Multi-Aid Box Alarm System. “Our concern is who will handle an incident when something goes wrong and when a worker is in one of the generators up in the air? Your average firefighter is not trained to handle that.”
Jackson, however, said that once the development is in Woodford County, fire departments will benefit from an influx of property taxes.
The 79-turbine, 160-megawatt project is expected to boost revenues for Woodford County taxing bodies.
“Navitas is not obligated to pay anything beyond what they pay taxes for,” Jackson said. “They are like any other business development in this county. We don’t go to IGA and ask for $25,000 more for fire protection.”
Navitas, the Minnesota-based developers of the Mendota Hills wind farm in Lee County, will allow the fire departments to spend the money however they see fit.
“Our proposal is to provide training for vertical rescue,” said Paul Eberth, project developer with Navitas. “In the past projects, we haven’t given any money to the fire departments (for training).”
Still, the $15,000 is not enough to get the firefighters trained, Perry countered.
“I think it’s incumbent on Navitas to have some sort of plan in place to perform vertical rescues,” Perry said, aware that it’s not likely the nearly $125,000 request will be honored by the company. “If we don’t have our own team, I am afraid someone will end up getting hurt.”
Perry said it’s possible for the county to seek assistance from fire departments in Normal or Bloomington.
Normal Fire Chief Jim Watson said 25 fully trained members of his department will provide some emergency services for the $630 million Horizon Wind Energy project, where volunteer fire departments such as Arrowsmith seek help.
He said it’s possible his department could assist Woodford County, although there have been no serious talks.
John Sharp can be reached at 686-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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