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Locals question state’s review of wind project

COLUMBUS – Champaign County officials questioned how thoroughly state officials reviewed an application for the proposed Buckeye II wind project Monday as the final days of testimony wound down.

The proposed project could create as many as 80 temporary construction jobs and contribute as much as $1.26 million in annual taxes to the local economy, if approved. An earlier phase of the project has already been approved by the state, and combined the two projects would potentially install more than 100 turbines over several Champaign County townships.

The first phase of the Buckeye Wind Project was decided by the Ohio Supreme Court, which allowed the project to move forward in a 4 to 3 decision.

Many residents have raised concerns about the project’s safety, arguing the turbines would be too close to homes. Proponents have said the turbines could bring needed revenue to the county.

The Ohio Power Siting Board has heard testimony for nearly a month on second phase topics ranging from the potential effects on local aviation at Grimes Field in Urbana to how the project could potentially be taxed.

Nick Selvaggio, Champaign County prosecutor, questioned Stuart Siegfried, a staff member for the siting board who assists with the review of applications presented to the siting board.

Among other issues, Selvaggio questioned how thoroughly the state’s staff reviewed Everpower Renewables’ application for the project. For example, he questioned whether Siegfried knew that the company’s local office for the project is in Logan County, even though all of the turbines proposed are in Champaign County. Selvaggio questioned whether it would be more convenient for residents to have a closer office available if questions arise during construction. He also asked why the state’s staff recommended Everpower create a toll-free number for residents to call for the first stage of the project but not the second phase.

Siegfried said he does not believe it’s necessary that the company’s office is located in the same county as the project, but said he would not be opposed to a suggestion to create a number for residents to contact during construction of the second phase.

Once the hearings are complete, parties involved in the project will have the opportunity to file final briefs. The judges who oversaw the testimony will also file a report and can allow the parties involved to make comments about their recommendations.

The state’s power siting board will then make a decision on the project. They can approve the project, deny it entirely, or make changes to the project based on the testimony. Once a decision is made, the parties involved can apply for the board to reconsider their decision. If the sides still do not agree, they have a final opportunity to ask that the case be reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Whether this phase of the case will go that far will be based on how the siting board rules, said Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing Union Neighbors United. That group is opposed to the project.

“We’ll have to wait and see how the board’s decision comes out,” Van Kley said.