URBANA – Residents got a chance to deliver their concerns publicly Thursday night during the first of two informational meetings University of Illinois officials plan as a project to construct a wind turbine in unincorporated Urbana continues toward construction.
Few concerns – if any – were quelled during the initial question and answer session, but Morgan Johnston, the sustainability coordinator at the UI, said she hopes to have more answers when they meet again in January.
Project officials are negotiating with a contractor who bid on the project, and Johnston said it looks as though only one of three proposed turbines can be built within the $4.5 million budget. The UI Board of Trustees could take final action at their next meeting on Jan. 20 in Chicago, and officials hope to have a turbine built by the end of May, when a $2 million grant would expire.
The seemingly condensed project timeline was not lost on nearby residents, who fear a 400-foot wind turbine would be intrusive on their properties.
“It appears that a lot of decisions have already been made, and you’ve just asked us here to tell us what’s going to happen,” said Marcela Raffaelli.
Johnston said the ideal location for the wind turbine is the southernmost of three that had been proposed, near the intersection of Old Church and Philo roads.
The site is south of Urbana’s city limits, but within an area city officials argue they are allowed to control certain specifications on wind turbines. Legal officials at the UI say the university, as a state agency, is not required to comply with the municipal zoning ordinance.
The proposed location is 1,028 feet from the nearest residence, short of the would-be setback requirement of 1,200 feet.
Duane Schwartz, who occupies that nearest home, said it is too close.
Schwartz, who used to work for the university department out of which this project is being managed, said it is encouraging to see UI officials taking steps to address public concerns, but it is a long time coming.
“It’s a start for communication,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know why they didn’t do it five years ago.”
Roy Douglas owns farmland and a ranch house close to the proposed turbine, and his son owns the house right next door.
“I’m fearful the thing will never shut off,” Douglas said. “I’m fearful that we’ll have to live with the noise and the shadow flicker every day of our lives.”
The project, which was originally conceived by students seven years ago, is intended to be one of the first steps in working toward goals set in a university renewable energy plan, which calls for a 5 percent reduction in the campus’ fossil fuel use in the next five years.
Johnston said she will take Thursday night’s questions into consideration and prepare responses for the second meeting in January.
While some worry about the property value, noise and shadow effects of the turbine on their homes, many wonder why the turbine cannot be moved farther from established neighborhoods.
UI officials have said the location was carefully chosen based on ground level heights and distance from Willard Airport, and Johnston said it is unclear whether residents’ concerns about the location can have any impact on the design of the project.
“I do not know if the university will consider modifying the location,” she said.
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