LINCOLN – The majority of the Logan County Regular board meeting last night was spent listening to public comments on the second attempt by Relight to apply for a conditional use permit to build a wind farm. The company recently sought to construct a wind farm in Logan County, and needed to be granted a conditional use permit to do so. The application was denied by the Logan County Board in February due to a tie vote among the members.
Wayne Woo was present at the hearing on behalf of Relight. Relight is based in Italy, and they are the developers behind the proposed Meridien Wind Farm. Woo is one of the owners of Relight.
The county board allowed for brief commentary from the public and the applicant before they took their vote. People once again spoke both in favor and against the application.
Jessie Butler spoke first in favor of the wind farm. Butler said her family wants to see the county take advantage of the opportunity to improve the county’s finances with the money this project would bring in.
Cole Baker said he supports the wind farm because of greener nature of wind energy. Cheryl Baker agreed with the idea, adding that the wind farm in Emden is not very loud, the roads left behind are helpful to farmers, and the turbines do not take much farmland out of production.
Tom Martin spoke on the appropriateness of a wind farm on the land in the area. Martin said that while wind farms may be a good fit for agricultural areas, they are not a good fit for residential areas. Martin also said that people in the area are still having a hard time trusting Relight due to a lack of transparency and communication. “The establishment of trust should happen the first day, not five-and-a-half years later,” said Martin.
Steven Smith, a former employee of Farnsworth (an engineering firm working in Logan County), said that Relight had approached Farnsworth for assistance when the design phase of the project began. Smith said that initially, Farnsworth did not feel comfortable with Relight. Since then, Smith said Farnsworth worked with William Kelsey, the project manager Relight has hired for this wind farm. Smith commended Kelsey’s work on past wind farms in the area, saying that this project should do well under Kelsey and Relight, and that Farnsworth is now looking forward to working with Relight.
County Board member Scott Schaffenacher asked if Farnsworth was investing any money in this project. Smith said Farnsworth is not investing anything, and that Relight is looking to hire Farnsworth for help with the wind farm.
Dan Curry of Mount Pulaski said he wanted to address the topic of subsidies related to the wind farm. Relight would be receiving federal tax credits in order to build their wind farm. Several people opposing the wind farm have said that Relight would not be building the wind farm without tax credits. Curry said that subsidies are not a bad thing, and subsidies are taxpayer money. “You’re gonna pay the taxes anyway…the benefit in this instance is at least it comes back to us,” said Curry.
Joe Butler spoke on the topic of potential health hazards. Butler said that his family lives near power lines, which also supposedly cause health issues. Butler said living near grain elevators also comes with its own risk, and there may certainly be people who experience negative health reactions living near wind turbines, yet many people live near these sources of risk. “People living in the county learn to adjust, learn to live with it,” said Butler.
Wayne Woo briefly addressed the board following the public. Woo said Relight has tried their best to respond to criticism and feedback from the public after their previous application. Woo said that Relight has written letters of commitment that were provided to the board members with help from legal advisors. “After last week, we heard that people were questioning our commitment to this process,” said Woo.
Relight has also written similar letters to the various groups that would receive the additional donations discussed in the application process. These donations cannot be attached and enforced as a condition by the county board as part of the process, which was an idea previously discussed by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
County Board member Rick Aylesworth asked why the tax assessor would be used as part of the appraising process in determining whether or not a home is eligible for Relight’s proposed property value insurance plan?
This plan would set aside $1 million per year to be used for reimbursement should it be proven that the wind farm reduced a property’s value.
Woo said Relight feels the assessor would possess the most neutral view of the manner, and the tax assessor would possess all of the relevant information that would be needed for the assessment.
Schaffenacher asked why Relight would choose five years for a sunset clause. Woo said that the suggestion came from Gary Hickey, who spoke on behalf of citizens in Mount Pulaski, and Relight agreed to the idea.
County Board member Gene Rohlfs said that he does not feel a wind farm can be approved under the criteria for conditional use permits. “In my opinion, after much study…this or any other wind farm, in my opinion, cannot satisfy or satisfactorily meet in a positive way the first three of the five [zoning] criteria,” said Rohlfs.
County Board member Jan Schumacher thanked everyone in the public for their calls and communications in this matter. Schumacher said that she initially voted no on the previous application because there were so many uncertainties and so many people voicing opposition to the project with nobody speaking positively. Schumacher said she has since changed her mind, due to the property value plan Relight has worked on and that more people have spoken in favor for this application.
“I wanted to make sure we didn’t have residents who were unable to sell their home because of the project,” said Schumacher. Schumacher also said that she does not want to see the school close down, as many other people have said, because that could also drive away young families.
Schumacher also said that Woo’s credibility helped as well. “His attention to all these details, a willingness to work with all these groups; he’s been very frank and open,” said Schumacher.
Schumacher said she has been disappointed with the division this application has caused. Schumacher said she knows other people have wanted to speak on this issue, but they have been afraid to because of its sensitive nature. “That’s far worse than any development that could come into the community. I would just encourage everyone on both sides to put their differences behind and to move forward,” said Schumacher.
The board voted on the matter following the discussion and public comments. The conditional use application was approved with a vote of eight-to-four, with members David Blankenship, Rick Aylesworth, Scott Schaffenacher and Gene Rohlfs voting no.
All 12 board members were present at the meeting: Chuck Ruben, Gene Rohlfs, Robert Farmer, David Blankenship, Pat O’Neill, Andy Anderson, Emily Davenport, Kevin Bateman, David Hepler, Rick Aylesworth, Jan Schumacher and Scott Schaffenacher.
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