La Salle County’s Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday unanimously approved a special use to allow the Grand Ridge wind farm.
Final decision on a special use for the wind farm sought by Invenergy – which is proposed to include 66 wind turbines on farmland in Brookfield, Allen and Grand Rapids townships – will be at the County Board’s Thursday, Aug. 9 meeting.
At the start of the six-hour hearing, about 120 officials, witnesses and audience members crowded into the County Board chambers. But after an hour audience members began to leave.
Following a short break Chairman John Hughes called after 8 p.m., attendance was nearer 60 people, with scores of audience members gradually having departed.
Two County Board members were present for part of the session. Board Chairman Jerry Hicks, D-Marseilles, made an appearance at the beginning and then left. Stephen Carlson, R-Mendota, stayed for the first two hours and questioned how tax contributions were calculated. None of the County Board’s Development Committee members were present.
Two Brookfield Township officials actively questioned Invenergy officials.
Supervisor Bob Widman locked down a promise that farm vehicles would be given the right of way on roads by wind farm construction trucks. Invenergy executive Joel Link said the deference would be “unequivocal.”
Highway Commissioner Frank Diss, who had numerous questions, received assurance that underground cables laid below four feet would be placed underneath farm field tiles.
Some audience members near the back of room complained among themselves about difficulty in hearing the presentations. They were seated below four oscillating wall fans mounted on the room’s rear wall operating at high speed. The fans gave off a steady hum during the proceedings, which a noise expert witness present described as “pretty loud.”
Ottawa attorney Robert Eschbach, representing the petitioner, called 13 experts who testified to the scope of the project and its lack of detrimental effects.
Kevin Smith, an Invenergy executive and licensed professional engineer, said Invenergy is the second-largest U.S. wind energy developer and one of the top five in the world.
With wind energy technology, the cost is up front, he said.
“Once you make the capital investment in wind (equipment) it’s pretty much free after that.”
Invenergy officials explained how the 66 wind turbine units with blades that would reach 389 feet high would be placed over a nearly 6,000-acre project area but only take 40 acres of farm land out of production.
Most Inverengy witnesses began by reading aloud long, scripted presentations that already had been submitted in writing. After the break, Hughes asked the witnesses to summarize their presentations as much as possible, which most tried to do.
After each spoke there were opportunities for ZBA members and audience members to ask questions.
But near the end of the session, the few opponents to the project who were present were not convinced.
Brian Wierenga, who sat with his wife waiting to speak, told the board the 17 wind turbines that would surround his property would depreciate his rural home’s value.
After leaving the hearing he told The Times he moved from Chicago to his dream house on East 24th Road for a peaceful life.
“It’s beautiful out here,” he said with emotion. “Now it’s over.”
Wierenga is surprised there was not more opposition to the project.
Actively opposing the project were neighbors Catherine Bilek and Barb Ellsworth, who stood in front of the county’s governmental center before the meeting and distributed anti-wind farm literature to those arriving.
They peppered the witnesses with questions.
“No reason exists that a farmer who happens to own property on which the turbines are placed will earn hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue from the project, while a home or property adjacent to the wind farm will lose tens of thousands of dollars of property value from the same project,” Bilek said in a prepared statement.
“The tremendous financial burden placed by the wind turbines upon property owners of La Salle County simply cannot be justified.”
Yet, witness after witness citing extensive professional credentials testified the impact would be controlled, minimal or nonexistent.
# Peter Poletti, assessor of Collinsville Township in Madison County, said his research showed wind turbines make no difference in the sale price of small tracts of land.
# Sound expert Tim Casey said noise from turbine blades complied with state limitations and would not result in any appreciably higher noise levels.
# Communications engineer Lester Polisky said the turbines would not disturb cell phone microwave transmission paths and that disturbance to individual residents’ satellite dish or airwave television reception would be correctable.
# Migratory bird expert Paul Kerlinger and bat expert Russ Romme testified that the mortality rates for both creatures typically could be as low as one per turbine per year.
# Transportation witness Lee Austin said the impact on roads would be minimized by dividing construction materials into small loads. Austin said each tower will require the delivery of 80 loads of material.
The turbines will be brought to their sites in sections and assembled with the help of cranes on concrete bases. The project will provide jobs for an estimated 150 craftsmen over six to eight months.
Besides electricity and payments to land owners, each turbine is expected to generate from $10,000 to $11,000 in property taxes annually, for a total of $660,000 to $700,000 – most of which will be distributed to school districts.
By Charles Stanley
26 July 2007
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