By John Sharp
of the Journal Star
EUREKA – With a more than $200 million wind farm project likely coming to rural Benson next year, Woodford County officials are hoping to attract other economic development, including an ethanol plant.
But county officials warn that if townships, attorneys, fire departments and others cause problems with the wind farm development, it could impede other developers from coming to Woodford County.
“Unfortunately, to some extent, we’re not setting a positive tone,” Woodford County Administrator Gregory Jackson told the County Board on Tuesday night, referring to other government entities who are making requests of the wind farm’s developer, Navitas Energy. “What we’re doing here with the wind farm sets the tone for future economic development in the county.”
Jackson’s concerns stem from a request from the county’s firefighters that Navitas provide about $125,000 to train a team of volunteer firefighters in handling emergencies at the towering 400-foot turbines and purchase equipment.
Navitas offered $15,000 for training, an offer they have not made previously for any of their other wind farm projects, including the Mendota Hills wind farm in Lee County.
In addition, three townships where parts of the wind farm will locate – Greene, Clayton and Panola – have hired an attorney to represent them while they craft a road agreement with Navitas.
Clayton Township Highway Commissioner Randy Koehler said the agreement is being crafted so rural roads are protected once heavy trucks hauling for the wind farm arrive.
“You’re dealing with expensive tax money on these roads,” Koehler said. “We want to protect our roads.”
All three townships hired attorney Sheryl Kuzma to represent them, and Navitas has been asked to pay her fees, Jackson said.
“I’m glad the county is separate from that action,” he said. “If I’m a company and I turn around and I’m being told by the party we’re doing business with we will pay their legal fees, then I think that is taking advantage of a situation.”
Kuzma declined to comment about how her legal fees are being handled.
“If it can be reached (that Navitas will pay for the legal fees) then that is fine,” Koehler said. “But if not, we’ll pay for them. That is not one of our greatest concerns.”
Jackson hopes the situation is handled professionally.
“This is the most high profile economic development initiative that has taken place for some time in Woodford County,” he said. “People will be looking at how we do business.”
That includes the developers of an ethanol plant who could decide within a month whether they will do business in eastern Woodford County.
The company, which has not been publicly disclosed, is looking to set up four ethanol plants in Illinois, according to Kyle Ham, the county’s economic development coordinator and vice president of Heartland Partnership.
Also, the county is marketing sites for warehouse and manufacturing development along the Interstate 39 and Interstate 74 corridors.
John Sharp can be reached at 686-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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