PAXTON – A four-hour public hearing, in which numerous concerns about wind farms were voiced, ended with a swift and unanimous vote by the Ford County Zoning Board of Appeals to recommend the county board approve a special-use permit for a wind farm east of Paxton.
Zoning Board Chairman Bob Link of Gibson City said after the 5-0 vote Tuesday that the decision to move forward on E.On Climate & Renewables’ 150-megawatt Pioneer Trail Wind Farm was “pretty cut and dry.”
A number of people expressed concerns ranging from a wind farm’s effect on property values, wildlife and aerial pesticide applications to the reliability of tax credits.
Link said he felt some people – many of whom do not live in or near the project area – appeared to have a personal bias against wind farms. He said the zoning board considered their concerns but determined the permit application met all 13 required criteria under the county’s zoning regulations.
“You’ve got to let them have their say, and we appreciated what everybody said and took it into consideration,” Link said, “but E.On had provided everything that our rules required, so we were pretty well obligated to vote yes, in our minds anyway.”
The zoning board’s recommendation to allow E.On to build up to 94 wind turbines in Patton and Button townships in eastern Ford County will be up for a final vote by the county board during its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, at the county jail in Paxton.
Meanwhile, a second special-use permit for E.On to build up to 17 turbines in Loda and Pigeon Grove townships in southern Iroquois County will be voted on by the Iroquois County Board at 9 a.m. Tuesday, at the Administrative Center in Watseka.
Joe Borkowski, development manager for E.On Climate & Renewables, a division of a German-based company with offices in Chicago, said he is “happy with the conclusion the zoning board came to” during Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted until 11 p.m. and saw a turnout exceeding 65 people at the Ford County Courthouse.
“This was a long hearing,” Borkowski said. “Many issues were brought out, many of them repeatedly, and I believe they did their due diligence and considered the issues and really applied logic to it, and made a recommendation that is good for the county and good for the whole area.”
Prior to questions and testimony being taken, Borkowski outlined the economic benefits the wind farm would bring to the area, including the creation of 200 construction jobs and 10 maintenance jobs, thousands of dollars in annual payments to landowners for leasing their land, a one-time payment of $410,000 to Ford County for building-permit fees, and an influx of $1.8 million per year in property tax revenue to local taxing bodies, including $1.2 million to the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district.
Mike Short of rural Paxton, president of the PBL school board, voiced support on behalf of the school board, saying it “couldn’t come at a better time” when the state is lagging on payments to the school district.
“I feel the benefits greatly outweigh the concerns,” Short said.
Construction is targeted for summer or fall 2011, said Andy Melka, an official with E.On. The turbines would have a lifespan of about 25 years, he said.
Leases have been signed by landowners on 11,930 acres, but only about 1 percent of the farmland will be taken out of agricultural production as a result, Melka said. The 400-foot-tall towers will be removed at the cost of the company once the project’s 25- to-45-year term is completed.
E.On’s special-use permit application says up to 94 turbines could be built in Ford County, but E.On officials said Tuesday night that they are now expecting 82 in Ford County. They told Iroquois County officials last week they would build 16 in Iroquois County, although they indicated earlier that the number could be as many as 17.
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