The Logan County Regional Planning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend approval of a conditional-use zoning permit for Horizon Wind Energy to construct the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, which will take up sections of agriculturally zoned land in southern Tazewell County and northern Logan County.
The meeting, which lasted approximately two-and-a-half hours, was mostly dominated by lawyers’ speeches from both Union Ridge Wind, which opposes the project, and Horizon.
Horizon will present expert witnesses from its side at tonight’s zoning board of appeals meeting at 7:30 p.m. in Hartsburg-Emden High School.
According to Logan County zoning officer Will D’Andrea, Rich Porter, a Rockford attorney representing Union Ridge Wind, will give his cross-examination of Horizon at a meeting next Wednesday.
According to Porter, he will also present experts to testify about the potential downfalls of having wind turbines around residential dwellings.
D’Andrea said the meetings were broken up due to the possibility of lengthy testimonies from both sides.
Horizon’s project director Bill Whitlock started Thursday’s meeting by giving a Power Point presentation showing the benefits of wind energy and downplaying some of the allegations made recently by area opponents.
According to Whitlock, the turbines meet the Illinois EPA’s standards for noise levels, do not depreciate property values of surrounding residences and will not harm wildlife in the area of construction.
Whitlock also said the project will bring a number of jobs to the area.
“Central Illinois is union territory,” he said, adding that union electricians will be used in the project.
Rich Porter, a Rockford lawyer representing Union Ridge Wind, questioned Whitlock about the legitimacy of his statements. As far as the issue of property values, Whitlock told Porter he would have an expert testify at tonight’s zoning board of appeals meeting.
The property-value expert, according to Whitlock, will testify there is no evidence of property depreciation in areas where wind turbines have been constructed.
When speaking about property values, Logan County board chairman Dick Logan seemed visibly agitated.
“We’re in a recession, property values are decreasing everywhere,” Logan said.
Porter also questioned Horizon representatives about health issues associated with wind turbines, but the company didn’t acknowledge such a problem exists.
Rene Taylor of Ellsworth in McLean County told The Courier after the meeting that both her and other members of her family have suffered health problems because of living close to wind turbines. Taylor lives within 1,500 to 1,800 feet of three wind turbines.
“We first had a problem last March with my son who has autism,” Taylor said. “He started having tantrums because of the noise.”
Taylor said the problem didn’t stop with her son. She and other members of her family are part of a study being conducted by Dr. Nina Pierpont in New York. Other residents who lived by Taylor were also part of the study, according to her, but they have since moved because of the amount of medical problems they encountered.
“I don’t have the money to move,” she said.
Porter said those medical problems are symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome. Although he says it may not affect everyone, it could most affect people who are susceptible to motion sickness.
“I experienced frequent headaches and nausea,” Taylor said. “A person from Horizon told me it could be psychological.”
Taylor said her doctor said the physical problems were a direct result of the wind turbines being too close to her home.
While Taylor acknowledged that other people had issues, she said hers were not typical.
“Not everyone has problems,” she said.
Taylor did say Horizon’s claim about the turbines being quiet were completely false.
“Winter was really bad,” Taylor said. “Thirty percent of the time, we could hear the noise” inside of her house.
“It’s a repetitive thumping sound. When the wind gets to 25 mph, it sounds like a train.”
Zoning officer Phil Mahler told the board he stood under four of the wind turbines and said the structures weren’t noisy.
Porter said the noise levels have to do with proximity. Because of the height of the towers, Porter claims it is noisiest at a distance away from the turbines and also stated the decibel levels are louder at night.
Porter’s main concern, however, had to do with the county planning commission’s five standards used to determine whether a conditional use permit can be issued.
The first standard states: “The establishment, maintenance or operation of the conditional use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare.”
The second standard states: “The conditional use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity for the purpose already permitted nor substantially diminish property values within the neighborhood.”
Porter said these two standards should influence the planning commission to deny the conditional use permit.
He also questioned Whitlock on the legitimacy of the wind turbines being placed in an agricultural district. Porter said properties zoned for agricultural use are for two purposes – agriculture and dwellings.
“Are you aware that there are numerous homes finding themselves in the middle of the footprint, yet they are not participating (in the wind farm project)?” asked Porter.
Whitlock argued that the 1,500-foot buffer, which he described as approximately a 125-acre circle, is a pretty big buffer zone between the turbines and the residences.
“That’s a pretty significant buffer, wouldn’t you agree?” Whitlock asked Porter.
“No, I would not,” he replied.
By Joshua Niziolkiewicz
8 May 2008
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