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Wind farm receives zoning nod; Woodford County Board still must give final OK to plans for El Paso area

A controversial wind farm development west of El Paso won approval from the Woodford County Zoning Board on Wednesday despite objections from dozens of area residents and a plea from the city of El Paso to keep the turbines a distance from its limits.

By a 5-0 vote, the Zoning Board approved a special use permit allowing the 40-turbine wind farm to be developed on more than 2,900 acres of property zoned for agricultural use. The permit needs final County Board approval before any construction can begin.

But when or if the County Board gets to decide on the permit remains to be seen.

The wind farm’s developer, Minneapolis-based Navitas Energy, is at odds with road commissioners from El Paso and Palestine townships about an agreement that calls for the developers to pay the townships $1.4 million over the life of the development.

“They didn’t give us a reason,” Wanda Davies, project manager with Navitas, said about the $1.4 million request, which the company opposes.

Davies did say, though, the company agreed to pay $285,000 to widen and improve about three miles of township roads throughout the area. Additionally, Navitas agreed to put up a $369,000 bond to ensure payment to repair damaged township roads once the large turbine structures are trucked into the area.

Right now, there are no scheduled negotiations between the townships and Navitas.

Having a road agreement approved is just one of several stipulations the Zoning Board required before Navitas or any other company can begin constructing the wind farm, which would be located on the west side of Interstate 39 and extend one mile north and three miles south of U.S. Route 24.

Other requirements before construction can commence include: project approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission; a $10,000 contribution to fire protection districts affected by the development; and the completion of an archeological and historic preservation study.

In addition, the Zoning Board said no wind turbine can be constructed within a half-mile north or south of Route 24 or west of I-39. This means that six turbines Navitas included in its original plans will have to located elsewhere.

“This is a balance of the people and business (interests),” Zoning Board Chairman Robert Harbers said about the conditions.

The Zoning Board’s approval comes after nearly 50 people spoke up about the project during a series of meetings before the board at an El Paso church.

About 30 people attended Wednesday’s meeting, but no one spoke publicly before the Zoning Board’s vote.

“It changes the way of life in Woodford County,” said Greg Potter, who, along with wife Sharon Sebastian, moved to rural Carlock in 1999 so they could live in an agricultural setting.

Potter said an influx of wind farm projects, including the El Paso wind project and a separate 100-turbine project near Carlock, has disrupted what he called a dream of living in rural Woodford County.

“It was a dream to live out here but it’s turning from a dream to a nightmare,” he said.

By John Sharp

Peoria Journal Star

16 August 2007