LINCOLN – On Tuesday, May 16, the Logan County Board voted on motions and amendments for the Hilltopper Wind Farm project near Mount Pulaski.
Planning and Zoning Committee Chairman Scott Schaffenacker’s first motion was to approve ‘amendments’ to a conditional use permit for Hilltopper Wind Power. The second motion was to approve an additional conditional use permit.
Schaffenacker said one amendment was to raise the “annual payments to $1,000 for turbines within 3,000 feet radius” of a property.
Board member Annette Welch said the other amendment was to limit construction activity “from sunrise to sunset with the exception for the erection of towers.”
Schafffenacker said he wanted to speak out against the second amendment because he believed for Railsplitter Wind Farm they were “allowed to work past sunset only to place the cell on the gear box on top of the tower.”
Board Chairman Chuck Ruben at the Railsplitter Wind Farm project, concrete was poured at night and “there was no restrictions on their hours of activity.”
Schaffenacker said the amendment restricted them to just erect towers at night.
Ruben said a lot of the work for the Railsplitter Wind Farm was done at night because of the wind, which needs to be “less than three miles an hour” to put up towers.
Board member Bob Sanders asked whether the night work was just during initial construction.
William Kelsey of Swift Current Energy said nighttime construction would happen mostly during initial construction. Kelsey said normal repairs would be done during the day. He said the exception would be having to replace a blade and waiting for the wind to die down.
Board member Kevin Bateman said he feels the nighttime work is no different than farmers working late into the evening.
Kyle Barry, attorney for the project, said the applications to amend the existing permit and to add additional parcels to the existing wind farm would “reduce the impact on the community.” He said the Logan County Regional Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals had approved both applications. The ZBA said the application complies with the county’s wind energy ordinance and the conditional uses in the zoning code.
Barry requested the board accept the recommendation of the ZBA. He said, “We believe that this will result in an improved project with fewer turbines generating the same amount of electricity in a way that sort of reduces the burden on the community.”
Ruben then opened the floor to public comments.
Three people expressed concern about how the wind farm would affect Steenburgen Cemetery in Mount Pulaski.
Retired Pastor Barbara Stroud-Borth said she has done many funerals at the cemetery. She said with nine turbines within 3,000 feet of the Steenburgen Cemetery, she “cannot imagine” offering final words and “fighting the noise” of the wind turbines.
Mount Pulaski resident Gena Monical-Ruhl is a member of Citizens for Responsible Land Use. She said towers will “encircle this historical resting place.” Monical Ruhl said Revolutionary War Heroes and all veterans “deserve to rest in peace” and asked the board to vote no.
Rich Cannon lives next to Steenburgen Cemetery. Cannon has relatives buried there and said he is “appalled” they would consider putting a wind farm next to it and “desecrating” his “ancestor’s graves.” Cannon said he thought a wire would go right through the property.
Mount Pulaski resident Lisa Leonard said she lives in the middle of the project footprint. Leonard said she wants to stay in the county, but is feeling “pushed out” by the project.
A few others who have worked with wind farms spoke in support.
Ryan Dodge, Operations Manager of White Construction, helped construct the Railsplitter Wind Farm and is now working on one near Forsyth. White Construction is a prospective bidder for this project and Dodge asked the board to “support these motions.”
Dennis Minick of Operating Engineers asked the board to support the Hilltopper Wind project because it “creates good paying jobs.” He said $1.5 million the project will generate annually along with the $560,000 in community benefits “will soften the effects of revenue shortages to the county.”
Don Rutledge of the Farnsworth Group said they have worked with many wind farms. He said “The design team are good stewards and care a lot about both public and private lands.”
Rob McIntosh is a professional land surveyor who has worked with wind farms for eleven years. McIntosh said those at Swift Current Energy “are some of the best people on wind farms I have worked with.”
Matt Birchby from Swift Current Energy who is one of the project leads thanked the board for their consideration. Birchby said he wanted to clarify that the transmission line “goes across the Steenburgen Association’s Farmland” and “not across the cemetery land.”
The motion to approve an amendment to a Conditional Use permit for Hilltopper Wind Power, LLC, passed 8-2-1 with Kevin Bateman, Dave Blankenship, Janet Dahmm, Emily Davenport, Bob Farmer, David Hepler, Chuck Ruben, and Annette Welch voting yes; Gene Rohlfs and Bob Sanders voting no; and Scott Schaffenacke abstaining.
Zoning Officer Will D’Andrea said the two amendments made in the ‘first resolution’ would need to be part of the ‘second resolution’ since “all conditions need to match.” The board voted separately on each amendment.
The amendment to allow crane work after dark passed 9-2 with Kevin Bateman, Dave Blankenship, Janet Dahmm, Emily Davenport, Bob Farmer, David Hepler, Gene Rohlfs, Chuck Ruben and Annette Welch voting yes; Bob Sanders and Scott Schaffenacker voting no.
The other amendment replacing condition number 41 with new language that raises the amount of annual payments to $1,000 for those living within 3,000 feet of turbines passed unanimously.
The Hilltopper Wind Farm requests for conditional use permit as amended passed 9-2 with Kevin Bateman, Dave Blankenship, Janet Dahmm, Emily Davenport, Bob Farmer, David Hepler, Gene Rohlfs, Chuck Ruben, and Annette Welch voting yes; Bob Sanders voting no; and Scott Schaffenacker abstaining.
The next county board regular meeting will be Tuesday, June 20 at 7:00 p.m.
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