MOUNT PULASKI – The Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals held its final hearing on the proposed Relight Wind Farm on Thursday night. As the public had been allowed to speak at the previous two hearings, the ZBA utilized the third hearing for deliberations and any final questions of the applicant.
As the hearing began, Chairman Doug Thompson asked for a moment of silence in memory of Dean Toohey, who passed away in December. Toohey was a member of the ZBA since its initial creation until his passing.
“We all had a great deal of respect for Dean, and we’re going to miss him and the history that he was able to recall,” said Thompson.
After the moment of silence, the ZBA began their deliberations.
Thompson explained that three votes will be needed to make any recommendation to the Logan County Board. On Tuesday, the Logan County Board approved Judi Graff as a new member of the ZBA. She and other members, Doug Thompson as chairman, Rick Sheley, and Brett Farmer were all present. Zoning Officer Will D’Andrea was also present.
The ZBA spent most of the hearing deliberating on various conditions that can be applied to the permit. As the project is an application for a conditional use permit, this is one of the few instances in which the county can attach conditions upon granting a request for land use.
Brett Farmer said he questioned whether or not some of the towers would meet the required 1,000 foot setback from primary structures. “A tower of that size may need more than 1,000 feet,” said Farmer. Zoning Officer Will D’Andrea said that there are a number of towers on the proposed map that would not meet the setback requirement, but there are provisions to allow a waiver for those towers as one of the conditions.
Farmer also asked how noise violations would be enforced and reported. D’Andrea said that the Illinois Pollution Control Board can conduct a study should a violation be reported. Additionally, the county can require that louder towers be run with noise reducing software, and that a study be conducted six months into their operation to determine noise levels.
Thompson said there could be another condition attached concerning weather service. This condition would require Relight to sign an agreement with the National Weather Service stating that Relight would share weather data with the NWS should Doppler radar be affected by the turbines.
Thompson said he was considering adding a condition that would require Relight to assist landowners should communication channels (such as phones, radios, televisions, GPS equipment) be negatively impacted. Judy Graff asked how it could be determined if the turbines are causing any problems. Thompson said he thinks it would be up to the landowner to take it up with Relight and work out the problem among themselves to the best of their ability.
“I don’t know how else we can do it,” said Thompson.
Another concern discussed was shadow flicker, which is when the blade on a turbine blocks the sun as it moves, creating a flicker effect. This was raised as a concern by members of the public, with some believing that it may pose a health and safety risk.
Thompson said he has spoken to people near other wind farms who dealt with shadow flicker. Thompson and Rick Sheley both said the wind farm companies in other areas spent money to purchase shades or provide landscaping to block the flicker effect. Thompson asked Robert Paladino, the representative for Relight, if they would be willing to do the same. Paladino said Relight would be willing to do so, and they have done so in the past.
Graff said that the possible danger to helicopters trying to land for emergencies is a concern for her. Graff said that while she does not see it being a high risk, it is a problem the ZBA has to keep in mind. Thompson said a plan for such possibilities could be added as a condition for the permit.
The ZBA also discussed the property values of the area involved. Thompson said that studies on the subject are very wide-ranging. “It goes anywhere from a positive effect to no effect to a twenty-five to thirty percent reduction in property values,” said Thompson. Thompson also said he contacted the county assessor’s office, and they believe that property values would not decline as a result of the wind farm.
“But it does make some sense that if you have a house near a wind farm, some people won’t want to live there,” said Thompson.
Graff said that the public hearings have shown an overwhelming opposition to the wind farm due to a loss of not only property values, but also a loss of enjoyment of the existing property. “There was really no rational support for it [the wind farm]. I also noted that the taxing bodies remain silent whether they wish to have the turbines or not,” said Graff.
Thompson said this has been an unusual situation, as the only support for the wind farm has come from the applicant. Thompson said none of the people who have agreed to have towers on their property have come forward, and none of the school districts (who would receive a majority of the property taxes) have spoken on this either. “Nobody said they wanted the county to receive the building permit fees; nobody said they wanted the roads improved to carry this heavy equipment,” said Thompson. “We’re surprised.”
Thompson also asked Paladino for clarification on something addressed at the previous hearing. 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. As of the December hearing, Relight had agreed to pay $5 per acre per year to these homeowners for the life of the project if it is approved.
Paladino said that since then, it was determined that some of the affected homeowners would not be receiving much in compensation due to smaller parcels. Paladino said they were looking into a minimum payment for this condition. Relight was considering a minimum number of $100 per year of operation.
Thompson said he had considered the same thing since November, but he wanted to see Relight pay $500 per year as a minimum value. Paladino said they would be willing to pay that amount as a condition for the permit.
Thompson said he knows other wind farms have made similar agreements with landowners, and these agreements have come with conditions that a landowner cannot take legal action against the wind farm. Paladino said Relight has no intention of preventing landowners from making their issues with the company known.
“My intention was not to make a document similar to the others,” said Paladino.
Graff said she feels this use would not be compatible with agricultural needs in the area, such as aerial application of pesticides. Graff said she knows some applicators will not be willing to fly through the area with turbines running, or they will charge higher prices per application.
Thompson asked Paladino if he knew of a solution to this problem. Paladino said that in the past, Relight has worked out agreements with individual farmers on a basis of necessity to shut down specific turbines during application of pesticides. Paladino said it could not be set to a weekly basis or anything regular, but individual turbines could be shut down as the need arises.
Thompson asked as to whether or not road agreements have been drawn up with the county engineer and township road commissioners. D’Andrea said the agreements have not been started yet, but would need to be as one of the conditions for use.
Another condition that was added by the ZBA was a time frame for construction during the day. Paladino said that typically for a project like this, construction would occur from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night. The ZBA changed that to sunrise-to-sunset for hours of construction.
As the deliberations ended, a motion was made by Sheley to accept the conditional use requested by Relight with the attached conditions. Sheley and Farmer voted yes; Thompson and Graff voted no. As a result, the ZBA has no recommendation to give to the county board, which will make the final decision. The conditions discussed by the ZBA will be forwarded to the county board as part of their considerations.
Thompson encouraged guests present to contact the county board members with their concerns and thoughts on the issue. The county board will begin discussing the matter on the 15th of January.