Horizon Wind Energy and Railsplitter Wind Farm faced the last major hurdle with local governments Tuesday evening. The companies have worked for months with township and county officials on permits and agreements that would allow the construction, operation and maintenance of 29 wind turbines in northern Logan County.
Hours and hours of testimony and evidence were gathered from seven zoning board of appeals hearings, and more was heard at last week’s board-of-the-whole meeting.
Planning and zoning chairman Gloria Luster brought forward the motion, off the table, to extend conditional use of agricultural land for the production of wind energy. When county board chairman Dick Logan asked for discussion, board member Pat O’Neill said, “I believe these people at least need an explanation as to why they can’t get a property value guaranty on their property.”
At that time a representative for the group opposing the wind farm read a statement explaining their need for the plan. It said that when Horizon first began negotiations with landowners, the company refused to talk to homeowners. So the property owners hired an attorney to protect their rights.
The action created resentments and alienation, “but that was not our intention.”
Their request was for reassurance through a property guaranty plan, and they were willing to negotiate the terms. “We are only looking to protect our biggest asset, our homes,” they said.
Landfill companies offer property guaranty upfront, and a New York wind developer does the same.
“This is the only consideration we are asking from you.”
(–End summary of statement that was read)
Frank Miles, attorney for Horizon Wind Energy, then spoke in response. He asked that the board vote for the wind farm and said that they should, “as it complies with your ordinance and it’s in the public interest.” He added, “We would ask that you not impose a property protection plan,” and listed several reasons.
The company has already offered each of the people in the footprint of the wind farm, within 2,500 foot of a turbine, a financial consideration. The neighborhood agreement provides payment of $1,000 per year, escalated at 2 percent per year at minimum, or at the consumer price index, over the 30-year life of the project. This would amount to at least $40,500.
There is a difference between an impact and an injury as recognized in the Logan County ordinance. Conditional use permits will impact neighbors. The test is whether there will be injury or not.
Property protection plans distort the marketplace; they don’t work, Miles said.
As an example he recalled a property from the Pawpaw area, commonly referenced as 965 Bingham Road, that was given a high appraisal of $328,000. The Horizon appraiser said it was worth $265,000. A third “made as instructed” appraiser assessed a value that split the difference.
Horizon bought the house at $32,000 higher than its value. It sat on the market 800 days before the price was lowered and it finally sold at $265,000, Horizon’s original assessed value.
Placing overpriced properties on the market would distort the market and also affect the sale of other comparable properties nearby.
In addition, the property value plan included that if a property owner went out and got an appraisal on their property and it had gone down, then the property owner could ask for the difference to be paid to them without having to move. Horizon pays appraisal costs. The concern would be that many of the property owners would take advantage of this at some point just because they could.
Chairman Logan asked if there were any other questions from the board, he paused, and pointedly asked O’Neill if he was satisfied by the answer.
O’Neill said, “Ya, that satisfies my answer.”
The board approved the land use for wind power with nine voting yes. John Stewart and Chuck Ruben abstained for conflict of interest. Bill Sahs was absent for surgery.
Opponents to the wind farm have said that they would not let it drop if the county passed the measure. They have 90 days to file an appeal that would next be heard in a district court.
By Jan Youngquist
16 July 2008
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