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Blowing in the wind? Conneaut contemplates wind farm  

Disappointed by one failed promise after another, Conneaut city council members are trying to remain level-headed following a meeting June 18 to discuss the sale of 159 acres in the East Side Industrial Park to a utility seeking to develop a wind farm.

Joseph Mayernick, executive director of Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, was one of those invited in the closed-door meeting along with Ohio Rep. Deborah Newcomb (D-99).

According to Mayernick, officials with SGT Site Associates of Willoughby are requesting a year-long option to purchase the acreage for $10,000.

SGR Site Associates is a site-management company seeking the land for a well-known utility company, which he declined to name.

“They are the front men,” he said.

The one-year option gives the company time to complete studies on the site to determine its feasibility for wind power.

If an extension is needed, the contract would be extended by no more than one year, and would pay $25,000.

Mayernick said the 159 acres used in the industrial complex is only a small portion of the total project.

“The full wind farm would sit on about 2,400 acres across the western part of Conneaut and into Northwestern Pennsylvania,” he said.

Mayernick said the proposed site would run from Thompson Road east and stretch from Lake Erie to I-90. About 700 acres is north of 20, while 1,300 acres are south of the city. An additional 300 to 400 acres extend into Pennsylvania.

Though Mayernick said the project has been in the works for several months, Conneaut at-large councilman and Economic Development committee head Chris Castrilla said he first because aware of it about two months ago.

“Now is the time for Conneaut officials to move quickly to ensure the project goes forward in the northeast corner of Ashtabula County. We could still lose this to another state,” Mayernick said.

Mayernick said the Conneaut site is attractive to companies because major power lines run through the area, giving them a tie-in to the electric grid, without having to build additional equipment into the plan.

With a new state law requiring a portion of their power generated by alternative energy, Mayernick said the proposed project is a good fit for the company, as well as for Conneaut.

He said the move is also a good one for Conneaut because much of the proposed site is unusable due to wetlands.

He likened it to islands of dry ground amid a sea of wetlands.

“A traditional industrial complex would face an uphill battle for wetlands mitigation, if it could even be used at all,” he added.

Because wind turbines use a smaller footprint, they can be scattered across the entire acreage and the land would not be permanently disturbed.

Each wind turbine would have a footprint of about 15-20 acres.

“That’s not how much land would be used on the ground, but that much space is needed around each turbine to keep it from affecting the wind speed of the turbines around it,” Mayernick said.

The next step would be for Conneaut officials to approve the year-long option for the company to obtain the land.

Once the paperwork is signed, the company can state wind studies, as well as the impact of the project on the electric grid.

Mayernick said the project could be several months away from those studies.

Castrilla said that without getting his hopes up, he is optimistic about the project.

“Based on the information we have, I see it as an opportunity to move the city forward that’s hard to resist.

Residents question wind farm benefits

As news of the wind farm circulated around the community late last week, Frank Giganti of the Conneaut Planning Commission asked Conneaut City Council Monday night whether it was true that landowners adjacent to the East Side Industrial Park had been offered a sale price for their land three times that offered to the city under the proposal.

Interim City Manager Ed Somppi said the offer to the private landowners was double that offered to the city. Much of the electricity generated by the wind farm would be sent to the East Coast, he said.

“I think we should give the compnay the right of first refusal so the land’s not tied up for two years,” Giganti said.

Somppi said he doubted a company that might put $1 million into a project would sign on if it knew another company could come in and outbid it for the land.

Tim Campbell of Conneaut also raised objections to the council.

“I heard it’s going for $2,100 an acre, and that’s absurd,” he said. “No jobs” No electricity? At $2,100 an acre? That’s obscene.”

By John Broom and Martha Sorohan

Gazette Newspapers

Conneaut Courier

26 June 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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