HARTSBURG – The wait is finally over.
After hearing an end to both public comments and closing arguments, the Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals tonight will make a decision on whether to grant a conditional-use permit to allow Horizon Wind Energy to construct 29 wind turbines in northern Logan County.
The board also has the option of adding conditions to the permit, including a property value guarantee proposed by Union Ridge Wind attorney Rick Porter.
The five-member panel, appointed by the county board, will meet at Hartsburg’s American Legion at 7:30 p.m. to deliberate and announce its decision.
Tuesday’s public hearing at Hartsburg-Emden High School on the permit request drew the largest number of supporters since the zoning panel started the public comments sessions last month.
Brent Hellman, who spoke in favor of the wind turbines last Thursday, said calls were made over the past few days and several people agreed to attend the meeting and voice their support.
Before the meeting, Hellman was attending a table at the school’s entrance to pass out hand-made fans, which read “Vote ‘yes’ to wind.” The fans were used by many in the hot gymnasium throughout the hearing.
Although Hellman couldn’t speak again, due to a rule allowing opponents and proponents to address the ZBA just one time throughout the hearings, he spoke on behalf of Logan County’s economic development director Joel Smiley, who did not attend the meeting.
Instead, Smiley wrote a letter that Hellman read.
“As the executive director of the Lincoln Logan Development Partnership, we look for innovative ways to bring new technology and investment to Logan County,” Smiley wrote. “The Horizon Wind Energy brings both of these key criteria to Logan County.
“Through a heavy equipment investment, Logan County tax collection will improve. As the windmills are built, construction jobs will be created, supplies will be purchased, and landowners and Logan County will receive revenue which can be reinvested into our local economy.”
Smiley’s letter also stated the wind turbines have the potential to provide local college students the opportunity to research the project’s impact on the environment.
Bob Pharis, Logan County Farm Bureau president, had his speech quickly cut off when ZBA members realized he had already voiced his group’s support for the farm.
The Wagoners, Sheryl and Brian of Emden, also voiced their support. Sheryl Wagoner said she discovered on one of the coldest, windiest days in Heyworth, the wind turbines were not found to be noisy.
Her husband, Brian Wagoner, said he could speak to people in cars parked next to him under the turbine and could be easily understood using a normal tone of voice.
Several members of the Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Locals 51 and 34, also voiced their support, saying the addition of wind turbines would bring construction jobs, “union jobs,” to the community.
“There’s nothing wrong with financial gain,” said one union representative. “I hope you (the ZBA) have the foresight to be progressive.”
Stan Cross, who has agreed to lease his property for wind turbine placement, tried to be the voice of reason for his community.
“This is a democracy, and we’re all free to express our views,” said Cross. “We’re all going to have to live together.”
Cross said Horizon would further benefit the community by building a “state-of-the-art welcome center in the Hartsburg-Emden area.”
“This will be the first new building constructed since 1962,” said Cross, noting that in the past decade, about half of the businesses in the area of proposed construction have been lost to financial hardship. “We live with real nuisances and dangers living in the rural community and never give it a second thought.”
Cross, like others, noted residents in the targeted area have to deal with both the noise and dangers of tractors and farm living.
Catherine Fogler, a representative from Union Ridge Wind, voiced her final concerns to the board. Fogler said she has medical problems, which, she added, are very expensive, and giving up value on her property was not a risk she could take.
“We did not make a bad decision (regarding our property),” said Fogler. “The decision was made by others.
“(A property value guarantee) costs nothing to Logan County, and if the testimony by Joseph Poletti (an appraisal witness for Horizon) and Horizon is true, it won’t cost them anything either.”
Cleola Fletcher, whose property will be surrounded on all sides by wind turbines if construction proceeds, was another speaker from Union Ridge Wind.
She personally addressed Hellman during her speech to the board.
“Since you are an absentee property owner, it will only affect how you farm,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher asked the zoning board to “try to be fair to residential property owners” by granting them a guarantee for the value of their homes.
Both opponents and some proponents of the wind turbine construction have argued a property value guarantee would almost solve the issue immediately. Porter said even if the conditional-use permit is granted, the property value guarantee would probably be enough to settle the issue permanently.
“If the ZBA grants the conditional-use permit with no property value guarantee, I can almost guarantee an appeal,” said Porter.
In this case, the matter would move to circuit court. Porter said most developers, because of a risk to financial backers, wouldn’t begin construction during an appeals process; however, because of Horizon’s assets, Porter said it is possible that plans would move forward, even if an appeal is made.
In Porter’s closing argument, he appealed to the board to follow its own rules. Five rules govern whether a conditional-use permit should be granted in an agricultural area.
“If (Horizon) fails to meet just one of the guidelines, you’re supposed to recommend no approval,” said Porter. “Not one of these standards talks about tax dollars. You’re not supposed to be looking at the benefits to the community.”
Some of the main standards of the conditional-use guidelines, which Porter referenced, dealt with construction not being “injurious” to a resident, or “affect the enjoyment of a resident’s property.”
Porter said he has presented testimony showing the turbines exceed the Illinois Pollution Control Board’s recommendation of not exceeding 40 decibels of sound, a fact that Horizon conceded is likely to happen on some occasions.
In Horizon’s “Neighbor Easement Agreement”, Porter pointed out that Horizon asks for an easement and offers to pay compensation for the consistent exposure of noise above the recommended IPCB’s levels.
He also submitted research from a doctor, which showed exposure to multiple wind turbines for a long period of time could cause a vertigo-like illness.
Bloomington attorney Frank Miles, giving a closing argument on behalf of Horizon, said not enough evidence exists to support a medical concern, and he also addressed the reason for a denial to give surrounding residents a property value guarantee.
“The property market is in the dumps,” said Miles. “(In the Bloomington area), there has been a 15.3 percent fall in the housing market. There’s a problem in the housing industry.
“A property value guarantee just moves the burden around.”
Miles also used his own personal experience to explain how issues with neighbors, and neighboring projects, is something everyone who lives in a rural setting has to deal with.
Miles said the first time he camped with his children, the use of his property affected his neighbor who wanted to hunt.
“The radio towers impact the use and enjoyment of my property,” said Miles. “Every zoning decision does.
“My neighbor bought five acres and (cut down trees) to put up two night lights. My property line ends at my property.”
Miles also said the zoning guidelines state that construction will not be injurious.
“Wind farms do not injure people,” said Miles. “We want you to go to Twin Groves and see,” he said, referring to a completed Horizon wind farm project in McLean County.
“(The guidelines) say not injurious … it doesn’t say not impacted.”
Miles also pointed to federal, state and local governments urging the use and construction of alternate energy sources.
Pointing to an ordinance governing wind farms made locally, Miles said, “Logan County has made that decision (by drafting the special-use permits).”
Miles, Porter and the public will not be allowed to argue any more points tonight. The zoning board of appeals will deliberate publicly and then render its decision.
Logan County Board chairman Dick Logan said, at this point, no special meetings will be called by the county board to handle the zoning panel’s recommendation
“We’ll talk about it in workshop on July 10,” said Logan. “We’ll be voting on it on July 15.”
By Joshua Niziolkiewicz
2 July 2008
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