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Moratorium on new wind farms OK’d

PAXTON – A great deal of frustration was expressed by citizens and board members alike during Monday night’s meeting of the Ford County Board. The meeting was a continuation of last week’s board meeting with one agenda item – wind farms.

Both sides expressed their frustrations over a lack of action and the length of time that problems have gone unresolved associated with the Kelly Creek Wind Farm in Rogers Township, near Kempton. All agreed that the problems have been expressed to the board numerous times by Kempton area residents.

Visitors were looking for two actions from the board – a moratorium on issuing any new special-use permits for wind farms until the county’s ordinance for wind energy conversion systems (WECS) is updated, and an official letter stating that the Kelly Creek Wind Farm’s owner, EDF Renewable Energy, has violated terms in the current WECS ordinance.

Board Chairman Randy Berger of Gibson City opened Monday night’s meeting by saying each board member should express his or her feelings on the subject before hearing from the 10 visitors present. Berger allowed each visitor a maximum of seven minutes to state their views.

Board member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton summed up most members’ feelings by saying: “There isn’t anybody who doesn’t believe there’s a problem. The question is where do we go from here?”

After hearing presentations of problems from six of the 10 visitors present, the board voted to place a moratorium on granting any future wind farm permits until the county’s WECS ordinance has been reviewed. The board also wants to address gaps in current requirements and insert language that is concurrent with new technology, such as much taller windmills. The current ordinance was established in 2009.

The motion for a moratorium was made by Randy Ferguson of Gibson City and quickly seconded by Tim Nuss of rural Roberts. The motion passed to a round of applause from all visitors.

The vote was not unanimous, however. Board members Dave Hastings of Paxton and Berger both voted “no.”

Hastings said he felt the action was “too arbitrary.” Berger did not state a reason during the vote, but he had objected to the idea of taking a vote, saying that specific action was not on the board’s agenda. Other board members argued that because the stated and sole purpose of the meeting was to address wind farm issues, the action was appropriate.

Board members Jon Clark of Sibley, Bernadette Ray of Gibson City and Floyd Otto Jr. of Roberts were not present.

The board also agreed by consensus to send an official letter, after consulting with legal counsel, to express violations it believes have been made by EDF. Berger said he will work with Ford County State’s Attorney Andrew Killian to draft the letter for action at the board’s next meeting.

The current WECS ordinance clearly states that the “owner or operator shall take steps to address complaints,” said zoning officer Matt Rock, who was present at Monday night’s meeting and had discussed the ordinance with Killian.

Killian was not present at the meeting – a fact that was a source of frustration for several board members.

Nuss said the letter needs to include all issues raised by the residents and be presented again at Monday’s meeting. Berger said he believes the issues for the letter to address are complaints of health issues, interference with television and internet signals, and potential loss of property value and business due to conditions caused by the wind turbines, which are causing residents’ dissatisfaction with their residences.

Such a letter would mean that company representatives must appear before the board to formally address those issues or risk having their special-use permits revoked as one potential action by the board.

At an August board meeting, board members had agreed that Berger would send an official, certified letter to EDF, but instead he sent several emails, which have gone unanswered.

Residents said they feel the company has violated the WECS ordinance’s minimum setback distance of 1,500 feet and possibly additional portions of the ordinance.

Berger questioned several of the visitors as to whether they had negotiated in good faith with EDF by responding to proposals from the company to fix their problems.

All stated that they had made responses, but EDF was either ignoring or objecting to their responses and offering no compromise.

Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts said she feels that one problem with the county’s ordinance is its phrase “take reasonable steps” in referring to a company’s requirement to address any complaints against a wind farm’s operation. Ihrke said she thinks the terms should be better defined, and she also asked who determines what those steps consist of.

Ihrke said she thinks the WECS ordinance “has no teeth in it.” Ihrke pointed out that several of the same group of residents had stated three of four years ago that the ordinance should be tougher, and she told the board “now you see why.” Ihrke also noted that signal interference could interfere with 911 communications in addition to television and internet signal reception.

Ihrke said she also believes the current contracts with property owners are one-sided, and it is up to the board to protect citizens. Ihrke urged board members to “send a message that you won’t be pushovers anymore.”

Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley said that EDF’s offer to put in a satellite television system is not appealing to her.

“They took away our (ability to receive) public airways and they can’t do that,” she said.

Rogers Township resident Roger Gualandi said he has wind turbines operating on two sides of his house. Gualandi said she feels his wife’s tendency to have migraines has been increased by the “shadow effect” caused by the turbines’ blades, and they have become so severe that she has made two trips to an emergency room to be sedated.

Heather Richie said that she relies on line-of-sight for her high-speed internet connection since she works from home for Cigna Healthcare. She has worked with both her internet provider and EDF representative Vince Green. She has kept the logs requested by both as to when her service is interrupted and what direction the turbines were turning at that time, but there has been no response, to date, from Green.

Chris Morrison said he has not heard anything from EDF after the company tested for interference with his television and internet reception six weeks ago. He termed dealing with EDF “wildly frustrating.”

Ted Hartke, who recently purchased Moore Surveying and Mapping in Paxton, had a cautionary tale to share with board members about his experiences in having to abandon his family’s residence in Vermillion County and move to Champaign County. Although he finally was able to sell his former residence, he feels the forced move and eventual lower sales price – due to tower location – cost him $100,000.

Hartke said the move was forced due to the noise from the nearly 500-foot tower constructed within 2,225 feet of his former home that kept family members from sleeping despite their many attempts to circumvent the noise. He said the county’s ordinance isn’t up to date enough to deal with towers of that size because they were not used at the time of the county’s current ordinance.

Hartke’s handout stated, “Our community was misled into making poor decisions which hurt the health and financial well-being of my family.”

Hartke also felt the length of time the board is taking to address the Kempton area residents’ problems could discourage potential home sales and business growth within the county. He said the television reception problem “is a very easy problem to fix” that EDF should have fixed by now without any attorney’s involvement or residents having to “spend months on the phone.”

County board members also want action and facts. May said the wind farms were supposed to mean jobs and more money for schools, so he wants the board to hear at an upcoming meeting as to whether those predicted benefits have occurred.

At the meeting’s close, Nuss apologized for the board’s delay in addressing the citizens’ problems and thanked everyone for coming to the meeting.