Union Township resident Bob McConnell and attorney Lauren Ross asked the Champaign County Commissioners to consider forming a committee to focus on issues related to the proposed wind turbine installations in Union and Wayne townships during the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday.
“This has come up as a concern for many of us,” said McConnell, a member of Union Neighbors United, a group which has opposed the location of proposed turbines and claims they will hurt property values and negatively impact the landscape.
Ross said she filed an appeal in Champaign County Common Pleas Court last week on behalf of McConnell, his wife and Julie Johnson, who opposed the installation of an anemometer to measure wind speeds on Ault Road. The Union Township Board of Zoning Appeals granted a conditional use permit to Everpower to install the anemometer after a public hearing on May 14.
McConnell said the 195-foot tower was erected in his “side yard” a few days ago, but he wasn’t sure if the equipment had been mounted, due to the height and lack of lighting.
“In essence, we can look out our kitchen window and see it,” he said. “It isn’t nearly as obtrusive as cell towers.”
Commissioner Steve Hess said the commissioners have no jurisdiction over the issue, as the township has zoning authority.
Ross responded that the commissioners are in charge of land use planning for the county.
“We wouldn’t have a problem with seeing a formal committee formed,” Commissioner Max Coates said. “Reasonable people can make reasonable decisions.”
Hess said he sees no need to “start from square one” by making a committee expend time and money to create a report or research the issue, when plenty of data is available.
“Studies have been done around the country,” he said. “We could study this thing to death and never get anywhere. I don’t think that’s fair to the other side.”
Hess said he sees both sides of the issue, and also has weighed considerations such as the long-term need for cleaner energy sources.
“I think it’s owed to the citizens,” McConnell said. “Now that we’ve let the fox in the henhouse, we need to do what we can to address the issue.”
Hess said the issue boils down to finding a balance between the common good and private property rights. Hess asked McConnell if he has visited the wind farm in Bowling Green, which the commissioners toured on May 22.
McConnell said he has not been to the farm and pointed out the differences between the public project, which provides power to Bowling Green and nine other cities, and the private lease agreements that Everpower is seeking with local land-owners.
“I don’t think there’s any comparison, either in size or quantity,” he said.
McConnell claimed that the proposal by Everpower would install up to 100 turbines, each 500 feet tall, in Union Township. The four turbines in Bowling Green are 391 feet tall when the blades are fully upright.
“These are industrial wind turbines designed for out in the ocean,” McConnell alleged of Everpower’s plans for Champaign and Logan counties. He also accused the company of making land-owners sign leases incorporating “gag orders” preventing the land owner from speaking about the wind turbines.
McConnell also voiced suspicion about the potential for wind power in the area and the potential revenue the turbines could generate. He said Everpower has refused to make the results of the data from the anemometer public.
“This is something that is now here on the horizon, literally and figuratively,” Ross said. “As an attorney, I recognize the basis for the prosecutor’s opinion that you can’t zone them out but you can regulate them.”
McConnell said he opposes the wind turbines for now, but he is more worried about the lasting effects of their installation.
“Though some of the signs we have say ‘no wind turbines,’ we’re not against alternate energy,” he said. “We just want it to be properly structured.”
By Breanne Parcels
6 June 2007
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