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Agreement, final vote may be a month away for El Paso wind farm

Plans for a wind farm near El Paso have been stalled for nearly a year because of township road issues, but now an agreement and final vote may be a month away.

Paul Lewis, attorney for wind farm developer Navitas Energy of Minneapolis, and Robert Lenz, representing commissioners in El Paso and Palestine townships, say progress has been made on an agreement on maintenance of township roads. A stipulation from the Zoning Board of Appeals a year ago required an agreement between township road commissioners and the company before a special-use permit could be granted.

The gulf that had been the size of the Grand Canyon is now “about the size of Panther Creek,” Lewis said.

Lenz predicted earlier this week that the two sides “should have a signed agreement in 30 days.”

The commissioners had sought a payment of $1.4 million with no accounting of what the money would be used for, Lewis said. That dollar amount has shrunk and the agreement likely will include what the money will be spent on, he said.

Because of that movement, the County Board voted 10-5 Tuesday to postpone voting on the issue until its Aug. 19 meeting. If OK’d by the Eureka-based school district, that meeting also will be at Eureka Middle School.

Fewer than 100 people attended the meeting Tuesday at the school, compared to double that two months ago. About 50 left after the board vote.

In another development since the board approved a previous postponement in May, Navitas has asked for a separate special-use permit to move six of its 40 400-foot towers near U.S. 24 to a southern part of the development, near Kappa. A hearing on that request is scheduled for July 29 in El Paso.

If approved, that site change could come before the full board Aug. 19, Zoning Director John Hamann said.

The board heard seven people comment Tuesday night, most in opposition to the project.

Steve Dressler, who resides on the eastern edge of the 3,000-acre development, said he has seen no studies on the safety of towers during tornadoes. Regarding their effectiveness, he said “they will effectively divide friends, family and community.”

“Give us the board’s guarantee that our property will not decrease because of this wind farm,” Dressler challenged. “What looks too good to be true or sounds too good to be true, you know how that ends.”

Kenneth Maurer, superintendent of Metamora schools, spoke in favor of the wind farm as a way to lessen dependence on foreign oil.

Christy Parr of rural Benson, a former teacher and employee of Caterpillar Inc., said she has heard school administrators talk about the benefits of an influx of new tax revenue.

“Not once have I heard an administrator say ‘I’m going to reduce the number of dropouts.’”

When the issue does come for a final vote, more stipulations may be added by the County Board. For example, Thomas Janssen of Minonk said he will propose a stipulation that none of the towers be within 1½ miles of the city of El Paso.

By Jerry McDowell

Bloomington Pantagraph

18 July 2008