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Farmer upset with wind company

COMPTON – Gale Barnickel, a Compton farmer, says he’s not against the wind farm being built in his area.

He and his parents decided against having turbines on their farm, but he said they respected the rights of others to have them.

“We have no problems with what the neighbors want,” he said.

Now, he is alleging that wind energy company Goldwind USA has been repeatedly trespassing on his family’s property. And that has resulted in crop damage, he said.

The property is well posted, he said, so trespassers knew what they were doing.

He brought the allegations to last week’s meeting of the county Zoning Board of Appeals, which is recommending changes to the county’s wind energy ordinance.

On Sunday, Goldwind admitted that its contractor mistakenly crossed into Barnickel’s land.

“When they realized this, they contacted Mr. Barnickel to apologize and address the issue,” spokesman Colin Mahoney said in a statement.

Since then, he said, the contractor has taken “concrete steps” to clearly mark Barnickel’s land, so it’s more visible to construction crews.

At last week’s meeting, those attending expressed concern about Barnickel’s situation. Another wind company weighed in, saying such things shouldn’t happen.

Goldwind, a subsidiary of a Chinese company, is putting up 71 turbines in an area of roughly 6 square miles near Compton in eastern Lee County. It hopes to finish the project – known as Shady Oaks – by year’s end.

In September, a farmer reported that the company had built a road through his cornfield that, he said, was unnecessary. He and another farmer pointed out roads and easements that, they contend, the company mistakenly built through faulty planning.

Other paths for transmission lines were curved, when a straight line would have taken out less cropland, they said.

Unlike Barnickel, those farmers allowed wind turbines on their property, which means they’ll get money every year from the company. In the contracts, Goldwind has agreed to compensate farmers for cropland lost in the construction project.

Barnickel has no agreement with Goldwind.

“Something has to be done to control these guys,” he said. “We try to be neighborly, but we’ve caught them mowing down our crops. They’re cutting corners wherever they can.”

Board member Tom Fassler asked Barnickel whether he had called authorities. The farmer said he had filed two reports with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, but that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money to keep calling out the sheriff.

“It’s nerve-wracking being pushed around,” Barnickel said. “Why should I have to put up with that?”

“You shouldn’t,” Fassler responded.

Franklin Grove Village President Bob Logan, who attended the Zoning Board meeting, said that was what happens when wind farms are rushed through.

“You’re seeing the rush in the southern part of the county,” he said.

Logan warned that the county may face class-action lawsuits because “rights aren’t being respected.”

“It’s not a level playing field,” he said. “We are here to level it.”

John Martin of Mainstream Renewable Power, which plans a three-county wind farm, told Barnickel that “it’s just not right. No company should operate like this.”

The next day, Barnickel’s wife, Christina Barnickel, said in an interview that the state should fine companies that trespass.

“We have tried to stop them and showed them where the property line is,” she said. “You put so much hope and investment in the crop, and then someone knocks it over. It rubs you wrong.”

Mahoney said the company would continue to work hard to make sure it is a responsible neighbor throughout the rest of the project. He noted that the project is complex, with more than 100 workers busy building access roads, erecting turbines and delivering components on site.

“Despite this complexity, Goldwind is committed to minimizing the impact on the local community, including both participating landowners and neighboring landowners alike.”