PAXTON – The Ford County Board has approved a special-use permit for a wind farm east of Paxton, despite some vocal objections to the county’s rezoning process.
After hearing two letters and listening to public comments, board members approved the special-use permit application by E.On Climate & Renewables for the firm’s 150-megawatt Pioneer Trail Wind Farm.
According to developers, about 80 percent – up to 94 – of the 400-foot-tall turbines will be in Ford County in Button and Patton townships east of Paxton. The others will be in Iroquois County in Loda and Pigeon Grove townships.
After the 9-3 vote Monday, some who urged the board to send the issue back to the county’s zoning board said they would file a complaint with Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. They said there were violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act at last week’s public hearing.
The application was unanimously recommended for approval by the Ford County Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Nearly 20 members of the public joined all 12 board members and a dozen department heads to fill the regular meeting room in the jail basement at Monday’s meeting.
At Monday’s meeting, County Clerk Linda Kellerhals read a letter from former County Board Chairman Debbie Smith of rural Paxton, who referred to the turbines as “400-foot monsters.” Smith said she felt the same process of requiring neighbors’ approval that was required for her to operate a business from her home should be applied to wind-farm development. But Smith, who has said she will have 15 turbines within a mile of her home, said she was not informed by E.On about its application for a special-use permit.
Smith was county board chairman when the county’s wind-farm was adopted.
A letter of support from Paxton Mayor Bill Ingold said the project would “generate jobs as well as wind.”
Angie Adams Martin said she “was not for or against wind farms,” but she felt the issues had not been properly addressed by county officials who also had not properly solicited enough public input. She called last week’s zoning board of appeals hearing as “chaotic” and accused zoning board members of conducting deliberations by “huddling out of earshot.”
Cindy Ihrke said she, too, had “serious questions” about the zoning board’s hearing. She urged county board members to declare a moratorium on further wind farms and also asked for “equal rights” for homeowners who fall within the project’s boundaries but “do not have a voice” under existing guidelines.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board President Mike Short reminded county board members that they represented all county residents, “not just a vocal minority.”
Short said the school board supports wind farms because they will increase the county’s assessed valuation and bring valuable tax monies – an estimated $1.2 million annually – to PBL schools, which have been hurt by economic downturn and the state’s fiscal woes.
“The bottom line is that E.On has met the requirements for a special-use permit as required by the county zoning laws,” Short said. “There is no reason for delay.”
At county board Chairman Rick Bowen’s request, zoning officer Larry Knilands reviewed the process used by the assessor’s office to ensure that all 13 of the required points had been met.
Knilands said that asking for neighbors’ approval was not required nor was it feasible because of the multiple possibilities for wind-tower locations. He drew a possibility for board members by saying that a resident could say “Tower 49 suits me, but Tower 82 does not.”
State’s Attorney Matt Fitton addressed board member Tim Nuss’ question about whether the hearing was correctly run. Fitton said all those sworn in were allowed to give testimony. Fitton said he felt the process went beyond requirements by allowing letters to be read into testimony even though sometimes the writer was not in attendance.
Andy Melka of E.On reminded members that his company had been in the area for three years and had received support from county, city and school officials. Melka pointed out that officials had the company’s application in hand for six weeks, and he believes the company has met all requirements.
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