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Farmland owners sue wind farm company

WATSEKA – The owners of farmland used to build the Pilot Hill Wind Farm in Iroquois County are suing the wind farm’s developers, arguing that they are still owed money for access roads built on their property and for damage done to their land during construction.

Attorney J. Dennis Marek of the Kankakee law firm Marek, Meyer and Coghlan filed a two-count lawsuit in Iroquois County Circuit Court on behalf of Charles, George and Howard Haley.

Named as defendants are San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy, which owns and operates the Pilot Hill Wind Farm, along with Cincinnati-based Vision Energy, which sold its ownership to EDF in 2014.

The lawsuit seeks an annual payment of $4,540 for the next 35 years, plus a one-time payment of between $50,000 and $74,000, as damages against EDF. In the event that EDF is found not to be liable, the suit seeks damages of $50,000 to $74,000 against Vision Energy.

The Haleys said in the suit that they entered into a contract with Vision Energy on Dec. 12, 2008, authorizing the firm to build wind turbines on their 160-acre farm in Milks Grove Township. The contract also allowed Vision Energy to build access roads on the farm to service the turbines, install overhead transmission lines on the farm and bury cables on the property.

After the project was sold by Vision Energy to EDF, construction of turbines and access roads began on the Haleys’ and others’ property. According to the lawsuit, workers contracted by EDF dug a large borrow pit in the middle of the Haleys’ farm – without the Haleys’ permission or knowledge – and the excavated soil was used to create roadways over ditches to allow heavy machinery to cross into their farmland.

The Haleys further allege that the digging of the borrow pit – and the subsequent filling of the pit with water – affected the farm’s watershed, causing infrastructure damage to some 80 to 100 acres. The Haleys also claimed that existing field tiles were “disrupted,” removed and not repaired for more than 4 1/2 months.

As a result, the lawsuit alleges, the Haleys’ farm was “subject to large amounts of debris and soil infiltration, degrading the effectiveness of the soil on much of the 160 acres.”

In a statement, EDF spokesperson Sandi Briner said: “EDF Renewable Energy develops renewable energy projects in a responsible fashion, taking into account key stakeholders in the process of adhering to all local requirements and guidelines. The local community was extensively consulted in the development phase, and the construction was implemented according to a plan that had consents from all affected parties. If and when variances from a project’s approved plans arise, EDF Renewable Energy meets with all affected parties to discover the appropriate and best solution.”

Turner Hunt, president of Vision Energy, declined to comment on the lawsuit.