A public hearing on a special-use permit to allow a 100-turbine wind farm on 12,000 acres of farmland in McLean and Woodford counties has been moved to mid-January.
The McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals voted Tuesday night to extend the hearings after listening to pleas from several residents who live in the proposed area. Those residents said they only recently learned of the plans for the White Oak Wind Energy Center proposed by Chicago-based Invenergy Wind LLC.
“Invenergy has been working on this project for three years,” said Bloomington attorney Melissa McGrath, who represents 16 families. “These residents only had notice for no more than a month.”
Invenergy officials say they have followed all the legally required steps and timelines.
McGrath said she was only recently hired to represent the families and needs time to retain experts to help her with the case. She plans to consult an insurance actuary on the potential effects of a wind farm on property values and an energy expert to help her cross-examine Invenergy’s experts.
“The clients I represent have resided in the community for more than 20 years,” she said. “They have concerns about their property and ask only for more time to prepare.”
McGrath suggested the hearings – originally scheduled for Tuesday and tonight – be postponed for 90 days.
Kim Schertz of Carlock echoed the comments.
“The public has not been notified,” she said. “I was not aware of the location until a month ago.”
She maintains Invenergy has hidden the planned locations of the turbines from many homeowners.
Catherine Metzger of Carlock agreed, saying she did not find out about the wind farm until an October open house held by Invenergy.
Cheryl Collins of rural Bloomington said she still hasn’t received any information, but a map she recently saw placed four turbines on her road.
Invenergy has said the turbines would be placed on land in Dry Grove, Hudson, Kansas, Montgomery, Normal and White Oak townships in McLean and Woodford counties.
But Bloomington attorney William Wetzel, who represents Invenergy, said the company followed all of the required guidelines that accompany filing for a special-use permit in the county: filing a petition, giving public notice and notifying certain property owners.
“The question is, are the procedures inadequate?” he said.
Wetzel said a 90-day hearing extension as requested by McGrath and others could jeopardize the company’s timetables and commitments and could beat the project.
“That’s not fair to the project,” he said. “We’ve done what the code asks us to do.”
Kevin Smith, senior vice president for Invenergy, said the company flew in expert witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing. Besides trying to maintain a project schedule, the company also could take a hit under federal tax legislation if the project is delayed until 2008, Smith said.
Zoning Board Chairman Sally Rudolph said an extension would have to coincide with the availability of the large room at Heartland Community College that is needed to accommodate everyone. Tuesday night it was a standing-room-only crowd.
Zoning Board member Joe Elble suggested a 58-day extension to Jan. 16 and 17. Member Drake Zimmerman agreed that it was a good compromise. The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. each night.
Members Mike Kuritz and Jerry Hoffman voted against an extension.
By Mary Ann Ford
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