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Wind farm hearings will draw crowds

Logan County regional planner Phil Mahler said he expects to hear a lot of opposition to a proposed wind farm at today’s Regional Planning Commission meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. in the Logan County Courthouse.

Barb Aper of Union Ridge Wind hopes to exceed Mahler’s expectations.

“Ten or so people from our group will be attending, but there will be other people from different areas,” Aper said. “We’re hoping to have between 15 and 20 people.”

She said although a large opposition group will be attending tonight’s meeting, she expects many more opponents at Thursday’s zoning board of appeals meeting.

The appeals board meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Hartsburg-Emden High School. This will be the opposition’s final opportunity to voice concerns about the wind project.

Aper said she will be given a chance to speak at tonight’s meeting, but has already been told she will need to limit her concerns to just two minutes of discussion.

“I just would like the opportunity to speak,” Aper said. “They have been speaking with Horizon for three years; I don’t see why they would only give us two minutes.”

One of Aper’s main concerns is that no one has addressed how she is supposed to navigate outside of her residence with the main roads to the east and west set to be blocked by construction.

“A county board member told me that I should stay at my mother’s house while they were doing construction,” Aper said. “I have a heart condition and am worried about having access to those roads.”

This is only one of the concerns dismissed by county board members, according to Aper.

“As far as the county board,” Aper said. “When I voice my concerns, they say, “You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

She received almost the same reaction after talking to Horizon’s project manager Bill Whitlock.

“When I tried to talk to Mr. Whitlock, he said it’s a matter of opinion.”

One of the turbines set to be erected will be close to Aper’s backyard. This is the only case, according to her, where construction of a structure is measured from a person’s home and not the property line.

Living in the Emden area and talking with many residents who have been involved in speaking with Horizon, she said some people who have already committed to having wind turbines on their property are considering backing out.

Aper said some residents didn’t realize until sometime after speaking with Horizon that they could be subject to further construction at the company’s whim.

“They can come back in at anytime and add things and move things,” Aper said. “Some people have come to realize that they have basically signed the rights away to their property.”

She said although the issue has just surfaced publicly in the last few months, some property owners in the Emden area were paid $1,000 many months ago for Horizon to come in and assess their property.

“People have said they don’t want to speak out, because once you sign with Horizon, there’s a clause in the contract that says you aren’t allowed to say anything negative about the company.”

Lawsuits seem to be par for the course in communities that have allowed wind turbine construction, according to a variety of Web sites involving wind energy.

From school boards fighting for tax money to landowners fighting for property rights, the wind farm industry has yet to be wholeheartedly accepted in any (Is this safe to say?) community where the structures are placed.

A group of lawyers attended the Tazewell County board meeting late last week, which ended up in a four-hour plus discussion. The end result was no action had been taken.

Representatives from Horizon Wind Energy were contacted for comments about the aforementioned issues, however, none of them returned phone calls or were willing to comment.

Whitlock would not return phone calls. Project Development Associate Laura Hickey said this wasn’t her area, and she had only been involved to fill out paperwork.

When asked why she has been attending the meetings, she said it was “for moral support.” Hickey then directed The Courier to a public spokesperson, Sarah Brown, from the company’s corporate office.

Although Brown is the spokesperson, she said she couldn’t comment because Lincoln wasn’t in her area. When asked if she could address general questions about wind turbines, her response was “I’m at work right now, and I don’t think it’s an appropriate time.”

By Joshua Niziolkiewicz

Lincoln Courier

7 May 2008