Union Ridge Wind attorney Rick Porter could have talked all night.
The Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals, however, wasn’t going to let him.
Prior to Thursday night’s public hearing on a proposed wind farm, a one-hour limitation was placed on Porter’s cross-examination of Horizon Wind Energy’s project manager Bill Whitlock.
Equal limitations were also given for closing arguments, which the board still has not been able to hear. Another hearing was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, so both sides can give public statements and more members of the public can voice their concerns.
“I cannot risk the board resisting me giving an argument,” said Porter. “I object to a time limit on cross-examination.”
Despite all of his best efforts, the board of appeals told Porter this would be his final night of questioning.
Porter objected before, during and after his cross-examination of Whitlock.
At one point, the Rockford attorney said he was not properly notified about his time limitations.
Upon hearing this, Logan County zoning officer Will D’Andrea left the bleacher area at Hartsburg-Emden High School to take over the microphone on the floor where Whitlock was sitting.
“Both representatives were informed on Monday,” said D’Andrea. “Porter objected on Tuesday … he was aware.”
Porter said a message left by D’Andrea wasn’t a sufficient method of delivering the notice.
Horizon attorney Frank Miles had no problem with the limitation.
“You have the authority to establish the rules,” said Miles. “We follow the rules.”
Before the cross-examination, Logan County highway engineer Brett Aukamp spoke to the board of appeals about the county’s road use agreement with Horizon, and Whitlock answered questions about tile replacement in county fields.
Both testimonies showed a potential for improvement to Logan County’s roads and infrastructures, according to both Aukamp and Whitlock.
“Overall, this will strengthen our existing roadways … it will be an improvement,” said Aukamp. “Everyone would have access to their property at all times, except for (small movements of large crane equipment).”
Even during the times of heavy crane movement, Aukamp said property owners would still have access to their homes, but they may need to take an alternative route. He also said these times would be very short in duration.
The board of appeals asked Aukamp if had researched the aftermath of a wind farm project built by Horizon in McLean County.
“It was a positive experience,” said Aukamp. “There were a few things we learned that we incorporated into our agreement.
“(The roads) were torn up for a while, but they were rebuilt.”
Porter asked Aukamp why the county already approved the road use agreement, insinuating the county board was acting on motives to receive a large financial gain.
“The county needed to be aware,” said Aukamp.
The Logan County Board gave its official approval to the road agreement on June 17. Aukamp was on hand during aJune 12 board workshop session to answer questions and distribute copies of the agreement.
Whitlock testified that any drainage tile, or damaged roads, would be replaced at the expense of Horizon.
“We’ll establish financial security to ensure removal obligations,” said Whitlock. “We’ll replace a large number of culverts, and there will be a significant amount of new culverts.
“We’re obligated to repair and pay for any crop damages.”
Porter argued that the actual company building the turbines, Railsplitter Wind Farm, LLC, could not provide financial security. Porter said until the turbines area actually provided to RWF by Horizon, the wind farm itself has no assets and only one employee, Whitlock.
No person has yet been hired by this company to construct or operate the wind farm, Porter argued.
“The board can’t look at the credibility of the people operating these turbines,” said Porter.
Regarding any property tax benefit the county would see from the turbines’ construction, Porter argued this also could not be established.
“Isn’t it true each year the county will see less tax dollars (due to accelerated depreciation)?” Porter asked.
“The money they see will be significant … there will be significant tax payments,” Whitlock answered. “I will stand by that.”
As in previous zoning and county board meetings, Porter also argued the use of wind turbines didn’t meet the standards of a conditional-use permit.
“Dwellings are permitted in an agricultural district,” said Porter. “Turbines are not … hence, conditional use.”
Whitlock argued this was the reason all turbines will be constructed in excess of 1,500 feet from any residence where people sleep.
Porter also asked Whitlock if he was aware of the county’s billboard ordinance, noting all advertising billboards in agricultural areas must refrain from using flashing illumination and moving parts.
“There will be flashing red lights per FAA regulations,” said Whitlock.
Also concerning agricultural, Porter said the cost of farming would increase because crop dusters couldn’t safely fly around the wind turbines. This would force farmers to start using ground methods of chemical application.
“The cost of farming just went up in that area,” said Porter. “Anyone who has corn now has to use ground application.”
Whitlock argued additional methods are in place for farmers other than crop dusting.
“There are hybrid seeds and other applications,” said Whitlock. “I don’t know if they’ll have to use ground applications.
“This is a directive (set by crop dusters). Not every crop duster follows that directive.”
At the end of the cross-examination, before the public spoke, Porter argued that no one else in the audience had the chance to question Whitlock.
The zoning board of appeals ruled that only lawyers can cross-examine witnesses, not the public.
After closing arguments are given at Hartsburg-Emden High School on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., the public will again have the opportunity to offer comments.
By Joshua Niziolkiewicz
27 June 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding