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Final arguments coming in wind case; Disputed project could end with more than 100 turbines in Champaign County  

Credit:  By Matt Sanctis, Staff Writer | Springfield News-Sun | Jan. 25, 2013 | www.springfieldnewssun.com ~~

The dispute over the controversial second phase of the Champaign Wind Project is a step closer to a conclusion, and several parties involved in the case will file make their final arguments as early as next week.

Attorneys for Champaign County and the city of Urbana took issue with the state’s hearing process itself, while state attorneys argued that numerous conditions attached to the $250 million project will adequately protect residents.

The project, which would install as many as 56 turbines through six townships in Champaign County, has drawn criticism from residents who believe the project is unsafe and has been sited too close to homes in the project area. Other county residents have countered the project will bring jobs to the area and provide income to local farmers. Combined with a separate phase of the project that has already been approved, more than 100 turbines could eventually dot the county’s rural landscape.

Champaign County prosecutors raised several concerns in their argument to the OPSB, which is expected to rule on the project within the next few months. Prosecutors raised at least six separate issues they believe should be addressed before the project is approved. Those include how the project might affect local roads and bridges during construction and whether the project provides a true economic benefit to the county.

Staff from the OPSB argued road use agreements will ensure local county and township roads are not damaged. But the county’s prosecutors pointed to earlier testimony from a similar Van Wert County project that showed negotiating those agreements was a lengthy process that was “a headache” for that county. The county also argued that although the project is located in Champaign County, the economic benefits will be spread over a seven-county area.

Jane Napier, assistant Champaign County prosecutor, also said there are concerns that the state’s investigation of the project was not thorough. The county’s brief argues that during testimony, although some information in the state’s investigation was proven inaccurate, staff members declined to revise their recommendations to the power siting board. In one case, a state staff member mistakenly testified that a wind company office in Bellefontaine was located in Champaign County. Local prosecutors pointed out that Bellefontaine is the county seat of Logan County.

In addition, Napier said wind company executives were allowed to present testimony on several reports submitted as evidence in the hearing, although they did not have expertise or personal knowledge about how the information was collected. But opponents of the project, as well as county and city prosecutors were not granted the same leeway.

“We have found that the way the hearing was conducted, we felt did not give due process to the county and townships,” Napier said.

For their part, attorneys representing the Champaign Wind project argued Union Neighbors United and local officials were arguing issues that had already been ruled on during the first phase of the project in the wind company’s favor.

“For example, Union Neighbors United disputed the facility’s impact on property values and the impacts of shadow flicker and operational noise,” according to Champaign Wind’s brief. “The city of Urbana disputed the facility’s impact on local airports and life flight services. The intervenors were not successful on their claims before the board or in their appeal before the Supreme Court of Ohio.”

The company also argued the 70 conditions imposed by the state will ensure the project is closely monitored, and argued the public will benefit as the project creates new jobs and pays taxes. The project is expected to create as many as 86 jobs during the construction phase of the project and 7 permanent jobs. It is also expected to provide about $950,000 in annual lease payments to property owners who have agreed to allow the turbines on their property.

While some residents oppose the project, there are other county residents who wish to see it move forward.

“Local opposition, while vocal and passionate, contrasts with many farming families who welcome the economic development and tax and other benefits that this development brings to the area, including their ability to supplement lagging farm incomes,” the state’s brief states.

State attorneys also said the project does not have to be flawless to benefit the public in general, and to move forward.

“To sustain legal muster, the proposed Champaign Wind Project need not be impact free or without risk,” the state attorneys said. “Improvements and maintenance to local roads will be required and made. Aesthetics and other impacts will be addresses and minimized where possible. The passion of folks who oppose the project, while admirable, must not be allowed to cloud the task before the Board.”

Source:  By Matt Sanctis, Staff Writer | Springfield News-Sun | Jan. 25, 2013 | www.springfieldnewssun.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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