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Wind farm request passes zoning hurdle

The first zoning step was heard for the proposed Pioneer Trail Wind Farm.

The Iroquois County Regional Planning Commission unanimously approved the conditional use for five to 49 towers in the Loda and Pigeon Grove townships.

The wind farm is being developed by E.On, which has recently began construction on the Settlers Train Wind Farm in Sheldon and Stockland townships.

The purpose of last night’s meeting, said Zoning Administrator Gloria Schleef, was for the commissioners to decide if the project fits in with the best use of the land.

“I can’t think of a better use for Clarence Rowe soil than for wind farms,” said Melvin Coulter, a farmer from the Loda area. He said the soil is not the most productive soil in the area.

Andy Melka, assistant development manager for E. On, said, the company wanted to “help get the full potential of the land for the land owners. You can harvest the crops. You can harvest the wind.”

Melka, Joe Borkowski and attorney Frank Miles spoke on behalf of E.On and the project.

Melka said the wind farm will likely have 80 percent of its towers in Ford County. The number of towers will depend on the type of turbine chosen, he said. There will be 94 if using the GE 1.6 mw or 65 if using the Siemens 2.3 mw. The substation will be the Ameren substation east of Paxton.

Citizens and commissioners alike were invited to ask questions of the representatives.

One of the questions was about interference. Miles said the towers do not have any real affects on GPS, cell phones or TV, and often if someone relays complaints then “they are trying to kill the project”.

Borkowski said he had heard of interference of GPS units within farm equipment. He said the tower would cause the same, or less, interference as a house or outbuilding would.

“We encourage people to first ask us if we can solve (a problem),” said Melka.

One issue was with drainage tile.

“We pledge to the landowner to repair any drainage issues we cause,” Melka said. And that extends to a three year maintenance program, with upstream and downstream farms covered as well. He said there are detailed maps and records of crane paths and underground cables, and it’s all registered with “call before you dig” program.

The men fielded questions on whether the wind farm towers could be placed in straight lines to better suit aerial applicators.

“We’d love to do that to the extent we can,” said Melka, but he said it’s hard to do because of the county’s set back requirements and because the land is dotted with homesteads.

Miles said aerial application can still be done and is done around the Twin Groves Wind Farm in McLean County.

Then, in response to noise, he said, the sound is like the hum of appliances in a quiet room. Though he did say there is a “swooshing” sound on windy days, “It’s always noisier on windy days.”

Property values, he said, have been studies. “Generally what is found is an anticipatory stigma during the conceptual phase (of an approaching wind farm).” But after the farm goes up, then prices stay about the same, even for small farms, he said.

“Aesthetically, it will be different,” said Miles.

The wind farm request will next be heard at the zoning board of appeals meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 30.