Developments on the proposed Rail Splitter Wind Farm proposed for northern Logan County and southern Tazewell County played out in three different arenas Tuesday night.
In Pekin, the Tazewell County seat, supporters of the energy project outnumbered opponents for the first time during a public hearing.
In Lincoln, the Logan County Board approved extending the Lincoln-Logan County Enterprise Zone to 29 parcels of land where wind turbines will be built. And, representatives of Horizon Wind Energy, the wind farm?s Houston-based developer, asked the city council to follow the county board?s lead and approve the enterprise zone extension.
Any amendment to the enterprise zone requires approval from both the county board and city council. And because of an extension of the zone several years ago to the Formosa Plastics plant in Illiopolis, Elkhart?s village board and the Sangamon County board must also sign off on local enterprise zone changes.
The Logan County Board?s vote on the enterprise zone expansion was unanimous, but Chuck Ruben, the board?s finance committee chairman, abstained. Ruben is currently discussing the use of several parcels of family-owned farmland to Horizon for turbine construction sites, county board chairman Dick Logan said this morning.
Lease terms on the individual turbine sites have not been made public, but estimates place the monthly lease payment to landowners at around $500 a month.
Board member John Stewart said he received several calls from constituents about whether he would abstain from voting, since he works at a plant that produces parts for the wind farm. Stewart said he didn?t feel the need to abstain in Tuesday?s voting, but chairman Dick Logan said Stewart will not vote when the board considers rezoning the turbine sites.
Across the street at Lincoln City Hall, city council members had several questions for Horizon representatives about the zone extension.
Alderman Wanda Rohlfs said a map showing how the extension would be accomplished to include all 29 turbines in Logan County confused her.
Heather Harper, an attorney with a Chicago law firm that represents Horizon, said part of the confusion may stem from the manner the extension is proposed. It includes adding a three-foot-wide strip of land from the existing zone boundary in Lincoln to the turbine locations in the Emden and Hartsburg areas. Additionally, three-foot-wide strips of land would connect all the turbine sites, since the state requires all property in the zone to be contiguous.
Harper stressed that Horizon does not want to take advantage of property tax abatements that the enterprise zone offers, but instead only wants to utilize another abatement on sales tax on the purchase of goods to construct the farm. Any item that is purchased within the state?s boundaries qualifies for the sales tax abatement.
City attorney Bill Bates said he wants to see a legally binding commitment from Horizon on the property tax waiver before the council agrees to an extension of the enterprise zone. Harper said that should not be a problem.
Mayor Beth Davis asked Harper if Horizon has considered some type of financial incentive to local governments, such as paying an administrative fee to the enterprise zone. Harper said she was unable to answer that question, but would pass that inquiry along to Bill Whitlock, director of project management for Horizon.
Meanwhile, in Pekin, the Tazewell County Zoning Board of Appeals was holding its third public hearing Tuesday night to accept comments on the proposed wind farm.
?The general public will benefit from this wind farm,? said Delavan resident Greg Tarter, who was one of seven people who spoke in support of the farm that would bring 38 wind towers to Tazewell County. ?I?d rather have that than coal or nuclear.?
Opponents of the wind farm have dominated the two previous Tazewell County hearings with about a dozen speakers. They say the towers will lower property values, cause noise pollution and create an eyesore. Six people opposed to the wind farm spoke Tuesday.
But residents who plan to host towers on their land and receive up to $500 a month to do it told the board about the benefits the towers would bring.
?With the financial difficulties the school districts are facing right now, they would be a great boost for our schools,? Delavan resident David Sinn said, referring to the property taxes Horizon would have to pay on each tower.
Others focused on environmental benefits, job creation and the economy.
?They?re investing in our infrastructure,? said Emden resident Kent Cross.
Both sides have been battling it out and will do so during at least two more meetings, each trying to sway the opinions of board members.
?The information is not all positive,? said Carlock resident Sharon MacDonald. ?There are two sides to this.?
MacDonald said the towers could cause damage if blades, machine parts or ice fall from them.
The Tazewell board will make the final decision on whether Horizon gets the construction permits to move forward with the project.
Horizon is expected to bring in experts May 15 on various subjects so residents can ask questions.
The board?s decision could come after that meeting, but if a decision isn?t reached, the deliberation process could be rescheduled.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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