Doug Thompson, chairman of the Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals, opened Wednesday night’s public hearing by saying that after many hours and opportunities there would be no more testimony heard. It was time for the board to deliberate. “We thank you all for your input,” he said.
This was actually the ninth hearing on a request for conditional use of land for wind turbines, but the first two hearings didn’t count due to an error in notifying some of the adjacent property owners. Horizon Wind Energy would be installing 29 wind turbines in Logan County as part of Railsplitter Wind Farm. Another 38 turbines would go up on adjacent land in Tazewell County.
The Tazewell County Zoning Board of Appeals approved the towers in June.
About 175 citizens attended the sixth of the long hearings on Tuesday evening. It took 2 1/2 hours, but everyone who had not spoken in the past was given opportunity to speak for the record.
Those in favor spoke mostly of the economic benefits to the area. There was also some mention that it would meet our society’s need for electricity as a nonpolluting, renewable resource.
Those opposed were mostly concerned about land values, visual and sound intrusion that would alter the quality of life, and possible health effects.
About 40 citizens were present for the closing hearing and decision on Wednesday evening.
Thompson said, “We’re here to look at the wind farm application and how it does or does not meet conditional use guidelines, and the specifics of the zoning ordinance as it applies to the wind tower/wind farm.”
The board then began going through the application, measuring against each of the five conditional use criteria points. They reviewed the evidence that had been presented, occasionally adding investigation they had done on their own. The first two points were discussed more, as they covered the major concerns. The remaining three points were of lesser concern and would be covered by agreements and through state and federal permitting processes.
The five members of the appeals board were all present: Rick Sheley, Marvin Johnson, Wilbur Paulus, Dean Toohey and Thompson, the chairman. They worked through the five points of the conditional use criteria specifically applying to the wind farm.
They considered if the turbines would cause problems for people living within range of the turbines:
1. In matters of health, safety, morals or general welfare.
It was observed that professional engineers would ensure design safety of the structures.
Thompson brought the noise concern into the discussion. He recalled that the lawyers debated about equally on this matter.
So, he did some research. He went to the Illinois Pollution Control Board site, http://www.ipcb.state.il.us/. “Of the 265 noise complaints that they show on their website, there was not one of those involving wind farms,” he said. “Seems to me that if wind farms were truly a problem with noise, somebody would have filed a complaint.”
Protective barrier fences are on a list of 18 items that were added to this particular conditional use application.
Paulus said that everyone would be affected to some degree, but he did not think there would be significant impact to the general welfare.
2. If turbines could be injurious to the use and enjoyment of the property already permitted in the area or substantially diminish property values.
Paulus said they had heard conflicting reports from experts, particularly noting the Bingham Road property where the elevated sale price that the people asked for was not realistic. “True value is when property is sold, and that’s when it’s tested,” he said.
Sheley wasn’t sure if property values would diminish. He recalled that there was a “neighbor agreement” being offered to those in the footprint that would give them something like $1,000 a year, which when summed up in years amounts to quite a bit of money. He thought that the annual stipend might be enticing to would-be buyers, so there might not be any diminishing property value.
He noted that whether residents wanted the turbines or didn’t want the turbines, they all held the same opinion; they like the peace and solidarity of country lots, and didn’t want more people moving out next to them. “So, on the one hand you’ve got, ‘I don’t want them to move here; property values would go down.’ And, on the other hand nobody’s going to move here except for windmills,” he observed.
Thompson noted that the area is zoned as agricultural. Agriculture would have minimal impact; not much land would be taken out of production.
Some figures provided by the opponents were from multiple states. They indicated an average drop of $42,752 on a residence and $500 on land values.
Opponents had requested to have a “property value protection” clause added.
Johnson thought it would be difficult to get a handle on this. “Right now there’s a 15 percent drop in the economy,” he said. “How would you even run a survey on it and know whether it’s accurate or not? There’s a lot of things that go into that.”
There’s inflation, the way people take care of them (properties) and more, Thompson and Johnson jointly said.
Thompson said he tried to find an example where property protection had been added for a wind farm area. He found only one place, and it began in discussions but appeared to be dropped and never implemented.
3. If the farm would impede future development of surrounding property.
It is an agriculture area.
Any future rezoning requests would come before the zoning board.
4. That adequate infrastructure and necessary facilities would be provided.
Covered in attached list of agreements.
5. That there was an adequate traffic plan that would allow landowners and residents access to their property during the construction process.
A plan has been drafted. There would be some inconvenience.
In all five criteria, board members agreed unanimously, “yes.” Their recommendation to allow conditional use of the properties included an attachment of 18 structural, safety and infrastructure concerns, permit requirements, and agreements. Approval was subject to meeting all of the 18 items.
The matter now moves forward to the Logan County Board for possible approval on July 15.
Following the hearing, opponents met together and spoke of taking the matter to the courts to try to stop the project.
By Jan Youngquist
3 July 2008