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Plan for wind farm near Toluca gets approval

LACON – The Marshall County Zoning Board of Appeals gave its support Thursday night to a proposed wind farm with 16 turbines towering nearly 500 feet high in a rural area southeast of Toluca.

The ZBA’s 5-0 vote to recommend approval of a special use permit for Minonk Stewardship Wind LLC came after a three-hour public hearing at which some residents objected the turbines would reduce quality of life and property values for homeowners not involved in the project.

“If you look at the map, within one mile, we’ll have five windmills, and so will (some other residents),” said Rebecca Donna, an Illinois Valley Community College professor who said her family moved to the area “to be out in the country and not surrounded by wind turbines.”

“If you had to choose between two properties – one has a windmill out the window and one of them doesn’t – which one would you want?” Donna said.

“There is definitely a decrease in property values” for homes closest to the turbines, said resident Rick Roeing, an accountant.

The project is a joint venture of Tiskilwa-based Stewardship Energy LLC and Chicago-based Akuo Energy USA, a division of a French firm. That partnership plans to own and operate the project after it is built rather than selling it as some developers do, said Akuo official Alain Castro.

“Our business objective is to hold onto these (turbines) for their entire life,” Castro said.

The developers countered concerns about property value loss by submitting a recent Illinois State University study concluding that no such negative impact had been found in the 240-turbine Twin Groves wind farm outside Bloomington.

“What we have seen is that there is little or no impact on property values,” said lead developer Matthew Kauffman of Tiskilwa.

But when Roeing asked whether the developers were confident enough of that to offer homeowners property value insurance, Kauffman quickly said no.

“We flat out wouldn’t be open to that,” he replied.

ZBA Chairman Bill Campion, whose family owns land in the Camp Grove Wind Farm northwest of Lacon, said the amount of conflicting evidence was unusual.

“This is probably the most conflicted finding of fact we’ve had,” he said.

The ZBA recommendation was coupled with a condition that no building permits be issued until the developers have signed an agreement with Bennington Township to repair any damage to rural roads during construction.

“I’d like to see something in writing and formalized,” said township road commissioner Scott Meils.

The issue will go to the County Board for final consideration on Nov. 4.