A multi-million dollar wind farm development in rural Woodford County is in jeopardy, the county’s administrator said Friday.
“We’re as close as we have been to this thing not happening,” Administrator Gregory Jackson said of the proposed 79-turbine, $260 million facility northeast of Benson. If it is completed, it could be the largest economic development ever for Woodford County.
The County Board will vote Oct. 17 whether to issue a special use permit allowing the company to build.
Greene, Panola and Clayton township government bodies, with their attorney, Sheryl Kuzma, are negotiating a road agreement with the wind farm’s developer, Navitas Energy of Minneapolis, Minn.
The townships say a road agreement is needed because the company will be hauling large truck loads of turbine components on rural roads.
Kuzma, however, has said in the past that a road agreement “adequately represents and protects the taxpayers and residents of the townships who will be extremely burdened by this project.”
Greene Township Supervisor Debra Hartman deferred detailed comments to Kuzma but said the townships and the company have a “few minor details to work out.”
“We are definitely trying to work with (Navitas),” Hartman said.
Wanda Davies, project manager with Navitas, said the company plans on fixing all of the roads that are damaged, and legally would be required to do so through the road agreement.
But she said the townships are requiring Navitas commit to a two-year guarantee on maintaining the township roads and to take all legal responsibilities if anything problematic occurs.
On the legal issues, Davies said, “If they do something wrong, they want us to take responsibility for it.”
She also said the two-year maintenance guarantee exposes the company to situations where it could have to make repairs to things “that are not our fault.”
If completed, Benson Wind Energy LLC will consist of turbines that will each tower about 400 feet from the ground to the top of each blade, which is considerably higher than Peoria’s 29-story Twin Towers.
Woodford County’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted 5-0 on Sept. 27 to grant the permit.
Jackson said without the township’s support, however, he could see the County Board not approving Navitas’ permit. “Township road commissioners have the authority to physically close down their roads,” he said.
In Navitas’ previous Illinois project, the 63-turbine Mendota Hills wind farm in Lee County, no road agreement with the townships was ever needed, Davies said. All damages to the roads there were repaired with the county engineer’s supervision and approval.
“They wound up with better roads in a lot of cases,” she said. “We’re quite surprised by all the difficulties here.”
By John Sharp
Of the Journal Star
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