Logan County ZBA closes public comment on proposed Mount Pulaski Wind Farm – (Full review of December hearing)
LOGAN COUNTY – The Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals held a continuation of their November hearing in Mount Pulaski last Thursday night. People crowded together in the Christian Church Family Life Center to learn about and comment on the proposed request for a Conditional Use permit for Relight and Meridian LLC to build a series of wind towers in Logan County.
Relight is a wind farm corporation with headquarters in Italy. Relight US, the subsidiary working on this project, is wholly owned by Relight.
The wind farm would be located south and west of Mount Pulaski, with towers stretching into Elkhart and Broadwell. The wind farm would consist of 81 wind turbines, collector lines, sub-stations, transmissions lines, access roads, meteorological towers and related appurtenances. In total, the project would encompass 8,100 acres across the county.
The ZBA members listened to a continued testimony from Robert Paladino, who was present as a representative of Relight. Paladino’s testimony focused on the economic benefits to the county and scientific studies on the potential health-related issues that may arise from infrasound generated by the machines, or lack thereof.
Paladino began by saying that at the November hearing, it was brought to Relight’s attention that one household had not been entered into the noise study conducted. It was also determined after the hearing that two other houses were not added. Paladino said that has been rectified, and the homes have been placed into the study.
Paladino provided copies of economic and scientific studies to the ZBA members. These studies concerned the health risks and economic effects of wind farms. According to the studies presented by Relight, there would be no health risks due to noise from the turbines. One of the concerns many people have over this is the effect of infrasound, which is sound that cannot be heard by human ears, but could still affect the body.
Paladino said that according to research, while there are people who report medical issues near wind farms, a lot of their symptoms are actually psychosomatic in nature. This means that health issues can actually be triggered within the body because the individual is anxious about living near a turbine.
As to the economic benefits, according to estimates from Relight using available data, the county could gain $2.44 million in property taxes the first year of operation; Paladino said that 70% of the property taxes would go to school districts.
ZBA Chairman Doug Thompson asked how Relight came up with that figure. Paladino said they used existing tax rates as a base, and that the number could change if the tax rate changes. “Landowners will not have any tax implications on this process as required by the state of Illinois,” said Paladino.
According to a presentation provided by Relight, land owners in the area who have signed agreements with Relight fall into three categories. Landowners have either agreed to allow a turbine on their property; they have agreed to allow cables to run through or access roads to be built through their property; or they have signed an agreement not allowing infrastructure to be built. In total, landowners will receive over $800,000 in leasing agreements in the first year.
At the November hearing, questions were asked as to whether or not financial agreements could be arranged for those who have not signed any of these leases, but would still fall into an area of effect of a quarter-mile. Relight has agreed to pay $5 per acre per year to these homeowners for the life of the project, should it be approved.
In addition, Paladino also addressed the concern raised over property values. Paladino said that according to research from ISU, while there would be some short-term loss in property value, there would be few long-term consequences, and eventually the property values would return to previous levels.
Paladino cited another study from Livingston County in Illinois, in which the author writes, “Based on analysis of more than 58,000 single family home sales before, during, and after wind farm development in the U.S., we concluded that there was no impact from wind farms on the sale prices of these residential properties.”
Thompson also asked if Relight has plans in place for possible television interference. Paladino said that there is currently a plan in place as to how to address such problems, but ultimately each potential case would need to be looked at, as it comes, before a plan of action can be finalized.
Mount Pulaski Mayor Jim Fuhrer spoke on the matter, saying that the additional tax dollars would be difficult to turn away. “That’s a tremendous amount of money for our school system. That’s hard to turn away. Our fire department, our township, our library; we need that money,” said Fuhrer.
Fuhrer also said he has spoken to several people in other areas of the county who live near wind turbines. These people told him that they have had no problems with noise or water tile breakage. Fuhrer also said that he feels wind is the safest alternative energy source today.
“The only thing I ask the committee to do is to respect and do what is right for the county,” said Fuhrer.
Concerned citizens of Logan County spoke for over three hours on their feelings towards this matter. Many of the speakers stated that the property taxes would neither make up for the loss in property value to the area, nor would it be worth the potential health risks cited in opposing studies.
David Trainor said he read studies saying that property values are affected negatively by the presence of wind farms. Trainor also questioned the reliability of Relight’s data, as a wider distance from the turbines is used as part of Relight’s research. A wider range means that the data is diluted in looking for a probability of reduced values. “They couldn’t find enough data within a two mile radius to support what they were looking for, so they started to expand the radius,” said Trainor.
Paladino responded, confirming that several range bands are used in these studies. “What these studies do is they analyze each and every one of those bands…They were trying to analyze the various things that people take into consideration as to whether or not the property value would be increased or decreased,” said Paladino. What this means is that these studies look not only at proximity to turbines, but other relevant data that one would use in determining property value at all, which requires a wider range to gather an appropriate amount of data.
Terry Coppinger questioned whether or not the turbines can be altered to reduce noise emissions, and whether or not the data used in such alterations would be relevant. Coppinger said that the software used in such machines runs on a set of conditions that are determined using prior weather information, not real-time data.
Paladino agreed, saying that weather is unpredictable at times. However, Paladino reiterated that the software would still be capable of doing its task and reducing tower noise emissions to below state limits. “We take the same GE data that was used for the smaller machine, and then we take the new machine and do the same exact study. Those studies conclude that you will not have a problem with noise or shadow flicker,” said Paladino.
After several people spoke on the potential health risks of infrasound, Thompson asked the crowd if anyone had actually spoken to people affected in such ways. Several people said they have spoken to others who once lived near wind towers and moved because of the health problems that arose. Furthermore, multiple people cited the same study from Brown County, Wisconsin, in which eight turbines (that were smaller and less powerful) created enough health risks to deem the county as a whole potentially hazardous.
“The evidence may seem anecdotal, but they’re real people who live next door to real wind farms,” said Mike Nichols.
Thompson also asked if anyone had contacted the Illinois Pollution Control Board as to what the county could do if noise complaints are to be filed. Corey Leonard said he did, and that the ICPB told him there are current pending cases in Illinois for noise violations, but it is a very long and drawn out process. Leonard said some of the cases started in 2012 and are ongoing. Furthermore, it would be on the part of the county to find evidence that the turbines are the cause of the noise pollution.
Leonard also reiterated that these turbines would be 3.5 times more powerful than any existing turbines in Illinois, and the smaller machines are already causing concern for health. Leonard said that the ordinances for wind farms were created in 2003 and “are ancient in the wind industry. The ordinances have not changed.”
One concerned citizen asked about potential traffic hazards and how the increased traffic will interfere with farming or school bus transportation. Paladino reiterated from the previous meeting that he has also met with engineers in Broadwell, Elkhart, and Mount Pulaski, and Relight is willing to provide the funding to assist the three townships to review the engineering plans, and to allow them to hire a construction superintendent to oversee construction. Paladino also said they are looking into possible railway transportation.
Blair Hoerbert spoke on behalf of the County Farm Bureau. Hoerbert said the Bureau has not taken a position on this issue, but they are researching the subjects at hand. Hoerbert also asked that the ZBA be sure to take their time when making this big decision.
Shaun Tyson, a member of the fire department in Mount Pulaski, said he is concerned about helicopter access to the area for emergencies. Tyson said helicopter pilots are usually instructed to avoid areas with wind farms altogether due to safety risks.
In a similar vein, Larry Baker said he is concerned about the use of aerial application of pesticides. Baker said that some of the pilots in the area would increase their fees to spread pesticide by air by fifty percent, or refuse service altogether if turbines are built.
ZBA member Judy Graff asked if the school superintendents in the area have voiced the same concerns. Paladino said that every school official he has spoken to has been in favor of the project.
“I understand how controversial this issue is. I understand everything that you have said,” said Paladino. “I feel the same as you, I want the board to make the right decision.”
Several citizens also provided copies of opposing studies to those provided by Relight. Over the course of the entire evening, both the applicant and the concerned public said that many of the sources cited have been released only recently, and it is only now that effects of these machines are really being studied.
Thompson said the members would need time to read through the additional research that was provided by Relight and the concerned public. They also would need to allow for adequate time before the county board can make the ultimate decision on the matter, as the ZBA only makes a recommendation.
The third part of the hearing will be held in the same location at the same time on January 8th. The ZBA will not take comments from the public on this date, although they encourage people to attend and watch the deliberations.
Members of the ZBA present were Doug Thompson, chairman; Rick Sheley, Judy Graff and Brett Farmer. Dean Toohey was absent. Zoning Officer Will D’Andrea was also present.
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