The Railsplitter Wind Farm in northern Logan County has jumped through a big hoop in becoming a reality.
After about an hour of deliberation at the Hartsburg American Legion Wednesday, the Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted to recommend the county board approve the project.
Attached to the recommendation is a list of 18 concerns, which county zoning officer Will D’Andrea requested. D’Andrea’s concerns basically deal with parent company Horizon Wind Energy being in compliance with all county ordinances before beginning construction.
Some of the concerns were making sure the plans and construction methods meet engineering standards. There is also an Environmental Protection Agency request for Horizon to complete a study on any potential disturbances to wildlife in the construction area.
Horizon will also need to give 9-1-1 operators a project summary, so emergency personnel will be aware of any potential problems or highway interferences in reaching residential properties around the construction sites.
Financially, the wind turbine company must also provide liability insurance, along with an escrow account that would cover any decommissioning of the turbines.
“The zoning officer was concerned about (the 18 items),” said appeals board member William Paulus. “He just wanted to make sure they were aware before it went to the board.”
The board also honored a request from Logan County engineer Brad Aukamp to include his wishes of having the authority to sign off on roadway plans and construction before Horizon starts tearing up county roads to provide access ways to the wind turbines.
Aukamp made the request during last Thursday’s zoning board of appeals meeting, when he testified about the county’s road use agreement with Horizon.
The zoning board of appeals recommendation will now go to the county board.
The county board has already discussed the matter numerous times and has already laid out the stipulations Horizon must meet to begin construction. Board members also have already voted to allow Horizon to be included in the county’s enterprise zone. Despite the inclusion, Horizon has still agreed to pay property tax on each of the 29 turbines to be built in Logan County. Another 37 turbines will be constructed on nearby properties in Tazewell County, where the hearing process has been completed in Horizon’s favor.
The wind farm’s conditional-use permit application will be discussed in the county board’s workshop session on July 10, and it will be up for a vote during the July 15 meeting.
Horizon project manager Bill Whitlock did not attend the zoning board of appeals meeting Wednesday. Due to a company policy, Whitlock was not allowed to speak while the zoning board of appeals hearing process was under way, but he said he would speak to The Courier about all of Horizon’s plans for Logan County once the board gave its decision.
He was unavailable for comment this morning.
Whitlock wasn’t the only key player who didn’t attend Wednesday’s deliberations
and vote. Both lawyers, Horizon’s Frank Miles and Union Ridge Wind’s attorney Rick Porter did not attend the meeting.
After the completion of Tuesday night’s testimony, Porter said he “can almost guarantee” an appeal if a property value guarantee wasn’t granted to his clients.
Not only did the appeals board feel Horizon met all five criteria for a conditional-use permit, members also felt it wasn’t their place to recommend the property value guarantee.
“It takes away from people who don’t want to live around wind farms,” said board member Doug Thompson. “But, maybe someone else does and will pay just as much.”
Board member Rick Sheley also felt Horizon’s neighbor agreement, which offers area residents $1,000 annually with a 2 percent yearly increase, would be a type of compensation for any potential loss of value. He also didn’t feel the loss would be “substantial,” which was the language in one of the approval guidelines criteria.
Paulus said the Bigham Road property, a residence in Mendota opponents cited as an example to show property loss after wind farm construction, was an example of “a case of appraisal being elevated to a not realistic value.”
Turning to testimony from opponents who voiced concerns over noise from the wind turbines exceeding levels recommended by the Illinois Pollution Control Board, Thompson said he hasn’t seen enough evidence to show it’s a problem.
“There’s no noise complaints on the IPCB Web site involving wind farms,” said Thompson. “There’s no cost to file a complaint.”
Thompson said if the issue caused that much of a disturbance, he felt some complaint would have already been filed by this point.
After the meeting, a few tears could be seen from members of the audience who were opposed to the wind farm. However, two members of Union Ridge Wind left with the ominous messages:
“It’s not over,” and “To be continued.”
By Joshua Niziolkiewicz
3 July 2008
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