The Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals reached a unanimous decision Wednesday evening to make a recommendation of approval for conditional use of land by the Sugar Creek One wind farm for the purpose of harnessing wind for electrical production.
Sugar Creek One would be located in Sheridan and Corwin townships, bounded by Illinois Route 10 to the north, County Road 1400N to the south, the Mason County line to the west and Rocky Ford to the east.
Sugar Creek’s planning team entered the local approval processes when they brought the project before the Logan County Regional Planning Commission at the beginning of this month. Eight commissions responsible for land use and development reviewed and approved the project plan, which would place 116 wind turbine generators spread over 116,000 acres to the west of Lincoln.
The current plan is for the first phase of the wind farm. More generators would be located to the south during the second phase, which would go through the same and a separate approval process.
Planners said that about 50 percent of the land contracts have been secured for the second phase, but it would be a while before they would be ready. It took three years since first contact with local authorities to bring phase one forward.
The final local decision-maker, the Logan County Board, will take the recommendations of both the planning commission and the zoning board into consideration before making its own decision. The board meets for discussions tonight and could bring the matter to vote when it adjourns next Tuesday.
If approved, and pending completion of all criteria, Logan County zoning officer Will D’Andrea would then be able to issue building permits.
Last night, the four acting members of the zoning appeals board – Doug Thompson, Dean Toohey, Rick Sheley and Judi Graff – began by reviewing the standard land use criteria, comparing how the wind farm would or might affect that area. They later moved to discuss a list of 29 project-specific points.
Thompson opened by saying he questioned if the proposed liability insurance levels were adequate, which would be $1 million per person and $5 million per incident on a $300 million project.
The full public hearing process by the appeals board spanned nearly six hours in the course of three evenings. It began with a layout of the project plan, moved into more specific presentations of studies and was finally opened to all public comments.
During the information-laden sessions, Sugar Creek One planners explained all aspects of the project, from construction to continuing operation and final decommissioning.
Experts who had performed studies explained their processes and findings on noise pollution, home values and effects on wildlife.
Local officials participated in discussions on public safety, emergency response and transportation issues that might be created during the construction phase.
Nearly two hours of public questions and comments were heard, with the most discussed subject being a concern for the interference that moving blades would create for the weather radar.
During the board’s discussion Wednesday evening, Touhey reflected on the proposed resolution that a communication system would be in place for times of need. “If the NWS would say they need to shut down, they would do it,” he said.
Graff added that Dan Fulscher, the Emergency Management Agency director, said he would be working with them.
Sitting before the appeals board was a gigantic stack of documentation that each had thoroughly reviewed. It covered all aspects of potential impact: commercial communications, aviation and wetlands concerns, wildlife, birds, archaeological matters, and flicker effect on a nature preserve. Studies have been conducted and would continue, including a watch on the forest frog, loggerhead striker and influence on shrike nests during breeding season.
The board looked at surrounding property uses and if the project would diminish property value within the neighborhood. A study was performed saying it would not, and it was observed that there are no known complaints from the nearby Rail Splitter Wind Farm.
The project was deemed compatible with nearby properties, which are primarily farm ground.
Other commercial uses in the area – grain elevators and quarry mining at Rocky Ford – would not be affected.
The decommissioning plan is primarily under the direction of the county engineer, Bret Aukamp. Money would be placed in escrow before building would begin, and the project would be reviewed every three to five years by a professional engineer.
A drainage plan is in place that would replace or repair tiles that might be broken in construction.
Structure and design plans allow for water flow in and out of flood plain areas, as well as erosion control during construction process.
A traffic plan has been created for the construction duration and is in the road use agreement.
Measures would be taken to protect a historic home at 1492 600th Ave.
An agreement must be created that would show where power lines that would connect to the grid can be connected during phase one.
A new noise study would be created with the new GE equipment that is quieter, but stats presented showing log rhythm had calculated sound to already be in an acceptable range.
An airwave interference agreement would correct service levels for TV, radio and Internet to the same level as prior to construction.
At the conclusion of last night’s meeting, Touhey said: “I’d like to thank everyone for coming and providing your thoughts. It’s always good to have public opinion. Maybe it isn’t the way you wanted it to be, but that’s the way the system works. I appreciate you coming out.”