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Sheldon Township settles lawsuit against owner of wind farm

SHELDON – Sheldon Township in Iroquois County has settled its lawsuit against the owner of the Settlers Trail Wind Farm.

Township Highway Commissioner James Yana filed the one-count lawsuit in July 2013 in Iroquois County Circuit Court against E.On Climate & Renewables North America LLC, doing business as Settlers Trail Wind Farm LLC. The suit had sought more than $1.8 million in damages, alleging that the company failed to adequately restore township roads used to build the 94-turbine wind farm in 2011.

The lawsuit claimed that the road-restoration work, which was required to be done by E.On as part of a “road upgrade and maintenance agreement,” remained “deficient over an approximately five-mile radius.” The agreement required E.On to repair all roads damaged during construction to their “preconstruction condition” or better, and the $1.8 million sought by the township reflected the cost for having the work done by a “third party.”

Associate Judge Ronald J. Gerts entered an order on Aug. 6 dismissing the suit with prejudice. Earlier, attorneys representing the township and company filed an “agreed motion for voluntary dismissal,” with both parties agreeing to pay their own costs and attorney fees.

“The parties have resolved all issues pending with this court,” the motion stated.

Yana said this week that the out-of-court settlement resulted from a payment made by the company to the township – the amount of which Yana declined to disclose – and the company agreeing to repair 4 1/2 miles of township road.

The road repairs were completed in summer 2014, but the settlement was not finalized until recently because “we had a lot of other issues we talked about.” For example, Yana said, the company has agreed as part of its settlement on a “more detailed plan” to minimize future damage to roads whenever large cranes need to come on site to make repairs to turbines.

“I wanted to minimize any future damage, and so did they,” Yana said.

As for the road repairs, Yana said he was happy with the resolution both parties agreed to. The way the roads were repaired – through two passes of microsurface treatment, followed by oil-and-chipping – was suggested by White Construction, the Terra Haute, Ind.-based contractor that initially upgraded the roads following the wind farm’s construction.

“It seemed like a good alternative to grinding the roads up and starting all over again,” Yana said. “I agreed that some of the roads that had to be done weren’t necessarily that bad.”

Yana added that microsurfacing “was more friendly to the population (of Sheldon Township) because we didn’t tear roads up and start over from scratch again, so the traffic was able to drive on those roads again within an hour after they did it.”

Yana said the township had an independent professional civil engineer inspect the roads within the wind farm’s footprint before the township and E.On agreed on what roads to have repaired.

The 4 1/2 miles of roads that were ultimately decided upon were repaired by contractors other than White Construction. Yana was unable to recall what specific roads were repaired but said one of them was a section of County Road 1400 North.