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Stephenson Co. to examine homeowner protection plan  

As Stephenson County officials work to create a homeowner protection plan for the two proposed wind farms for this area, some objectors to the project are concerned a draft version of the plan does not sufficiently protect residents who experience property value loss.

Currently, the plan is in draft form and may be changed as participants continue to discuss the terms of the document, said Terry Groves, director of planning and zoning for the county. The plan, which is also known as a “home-seller protection agreement,” will be discussed at the next county Planning and Development Committee meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the county courthouse. County officials, the wind-farm companies, and landowners are providing input on the plan’s creation, officials said.

Groves said it’s unclear whether the committee will approve the document at its next meeting, or whether it will undergo further revisions. To Groves, the document as it stands now is “fair” to all parties involved.

“It satisfies all the conditions in approving the projects,” Groves said. “Whether those (conditions) are what the committee agrees to, I don’t know.”

In November, the County Board approved the special-use zoning applications that will allow two companies to establish wind farms in this area. The projects include EcoGrove Wind LLC, a wind farm proposed for a site northwest of Lena by Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group, and Lancaster Wind Farm LLC, a farm proposed for the Dakota area by Navitas Energy of Minneapolis.

The companies will have to meet a number of requirements before building permits will be allowed, including the homeowner protection plan and numerous others.

The main purpose of the plan is to set up specific terms by which the wind-farm companies would have to compensate adjacent homeowners who experience a loss in property value due to the wind towers. At this time, the plan only covers homes that are within 2,000 feet of a wind tower, but this figure has not yet been finalized, Groves said.

Currently, there are approximately 43 non-participating homes covered under the plan for the Navitas wind farm, and roughly 40 such homes covered for the EcoEnergy farm. Non-participating homes are those not allowing wind-farm companies to build towers on their property, officials say.

The loss of property value would only be compensated if the homeowner were to sell their home, the document states. If a home sells for less than 110 percent of its fair cash value as reflected on the 2007 tax bill, the wind-farm company in question would make up the difference for the homeowner, the document states. The plan also includes guidelines related to setbacks, and other aspects of the project.

“This is a complicated proposition and this is one approach to it,” said county Special Assistant State’s Attorney Frank Cook. “Ultimately, it’s up to the committee to decide if it meets the requirements.”

Rick Porter, an attorney representing about 25 landowners objecting to the wind farms, said the plan in its current form does not adequately protect homeowners. For one thing, the fair cash value of a home will be based on the county assessor’s determination, as opposed to a “licensed and qualified” appraiser, Porter said.

In addition, Porter said the plan is not fair because it only provides for compensation if the sale of a home occurs. The plan includes no consideration for an owner who is unable to sell his house, or for an owner who decides to stay but still experiences a loss in property value, Porter said. “It’s only after you’re able to sell the property that you can be compensated,” Porter said. “In my view, the property value should be protected regardless if you’re able to sell (the home).” Porter said he plans to submit to the county an amended version of the plan that he hopes officials will consider.

Carl Wise, a member Lancaster Voices, which currently represents about 45 homeowners opposed to the Lancaster LLC project, also expressed concern about the plan, which won’t cover homes like his, which aren’t near a wind tower but are close to the site of a proposed substation. “This plan was drafted to protect the developers,” he said. Wise also expressed concern about language in the agreement that requires homeowners to give up their right to sue the Lancaster windfarm for any reason – even in cases where their property is damaged or injuries occur.

Mary Lobdell of Lena, an adjacent property owner, said she has not seen the proposed plan, but has heard that it will not sufficiently protect landowners. Lobdell said there will be at least 10 wind towers within a half mile of her farm property.

“From what I’ve heard, we’re not getting what we think we ought to,” Lobdell said of the homeowner plan.

Kevin Lindquist, a senior project developer for Navitas, declined to comment on the plan. Shawn Gaffney, president of EcoEnergy, did not offer an opinion on the plan, but said his company plans to collaborate with the other parties involved to create a viable document.

“EcoEnergy will work with the county and Navitas to come up with a plan that’s acceptable to the planning committee,” Gaffney said.

By Travis Morse, The Journal-Standard
Published: Saturday, February 3, 2007

journalstandard.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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