COMPTON – Wesley Englehart is unhappy with a wind energy company’s decision to build a road through his cornfields. So he put up no-trespassing signs to stop the work.
Goldwind USA, a subsidiary of a Chinese company, sent a letter earlier this month informing him that it had the right to build the road. And it warned him that it would pursue “additional remedies” if he delayed the project.
Englehart, a Compton farmer, didn’t take down the signs. A construction worker did that, putting them in his driveway.
“They said there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.
The road construction continued.
Goldwind is putting up 71 turbines in a roughly 6-square-mile area near Compton in eastern Lee County. It hopes to finish the $200 million project – known as Shady Oaks – by year’s end.
It requires roads through cornfields to haul in the pieces for wind turbines. And the company is carving out smaller easements through the 6-foot-high corn for electrical transmission lines. All such work is allowed under the contracts, Goldwind maintains.
A few years ago, Englehart entered an agreement for four wind turbines on his property. As part of that deal, the company maintains it had the right to build an access road in its proposed location.
But Englehart said the road is unnecessary. The company is trying to avoid using a township road because its heavy trucks would heavily damage two bridges, he said. Goldwind would be responsible for paying for repairs, costing around $200,000, he said.
In the contract, the company proposes to compensate farmers for the temporary reduction in farmland, farmers say. But Englehart, 61, said he’s not sure he’ll be fully reimbursed.
“Hopefully, we will,” he said. “It’ll be a nightmare to figure out all the areas that are damaged.”
‘They can basically do anything …’
Another nearby farmer, Charlene Zimmerman, said she believes the wind farm will be good for the area once it’s done.
“In this stage, it’s been annoying and any word you can think of,” Zimmerman, 65, said.
The project requires dozens of workers. As Englehart stands by the new road, a truck goes by every couple of minutes, each one kicking up dust.
He and Zimmerman pointed out roads and easements that they said the company mistakenly built through faulty planing. That means cropland has been lost unnecessarily, they said.
Zimmerman questions why the paths for the transmission lines are curved. A straight line would take out less cropland, she said.
“They can basically do anything with your land,” she said.
Asked if they showed their contracts to an attorney, Zimmerman said she didn’t. Englehart said he did, and was advised it was the best he could do.
Englehart estimates the loss in revenue because of the wind farm this year is $30,000 to $50,000.
“Had they done the work in the spring, there would have been less damage,” he said.
He said Goldwind could have done better in communicating with farmers.
“They should show us where they’re at. Be fair to us,” he said.
Another farmer, Jeff Zinke, said he has a good relationship with Goldwind. One turbine is planned for his farm.
“There are going to be unforeseen things,” he said. “When I make a call to them, I get a response. I have been waiting for windmills for 9 years. I’ve gone through three different companies. I’m glad to be getting something.”
As for the appearance of turbines, he said, “From where I live right now, I can see the Byron nuclear plant. I’d much rather see windmills.”
Transparency the goal, company says
Colin Mahoney, a spokesman with Goldwind, said the company plans to compensate farmers for this year’s lost acreage.
“We’re trying as hard as we can to be transparent,” he said. “We held a landowners party when we first got this project.”
Goldwind doesn’t discuss specific contracts, said Andy Evans, the development manager for the Shady Oaks project.
“That said, we have always been willing to work with landowners and local governments in good faith to address concerns whenever possible,” Evans said in an email. “We respect the critical role that farming plays in this community and strive to minimize the inconvenience caused by our construction activities on farming operations.”
He said his company intends to live up to contractual obligations to reimburse landowners for damages as outlined in the agreements.
Brooklyn Township Supervisor Susan Beckstrom said the township received $300,000 from the project – some of which probably will be used for cleanup.
“We cannot blame the farmer for going along with going green because they receive a monetary incentive to allow quality farmland to be chopped up,” she said.
But she said others will be hurt because they’ll have to look at the towers.
“We’ll watch as the windmills go up and our property values go down, even more so than the economy has caused,” she said. “Our real estate tax bills keep going up.”
She said the community should have been more vocal 5 years ago when the project was being conceived.
The project is expected to bring in more than $1 million in tax revenue a year to local government entities, according to a 2010 memo from the Lee County assessor’s office. The Mendota and Paw Paw school districts are slated to get nearly $800,000 of that money.
Lee County recently got $513,000 from Goldwind for building permit fees for the wind farm. The turbines will be from 279 to 328 feet tall.
This is Goldwind’s first major utility-scale wind farm project. At the beginning of the year, Goldwind acquired the project from Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power. The project was originally proposed by Sublette couple Bruce and Joyce Papiech.
The project will employ 120 people in the construction phase. As with most wind farms, it’ll have only a handful of permanent employees once it’s up.
While the company is Chinese, many of the turbines’ components will be made in the United States – the towers in Texas and Wisconsin, and the blades in North Dakota, Goldwind says.
“Goldwind’s process of sourcing projects is competitive, creating American jobs,” Mahoney said.
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