TIFFIN – There’s a new judge and a new hearing date for the legal complaint Utah-based wind turbine developer sPower has filed against 30 property owners whom the company claims are in breach of contract by resisting sPower’s attempts to come onto their property
The Ohio Supreme Court has appointed retired Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex to hear the complaint after Seneca County Commons Pleas Judge Michael Kelbley recused himself Monday.
Judge Kelbley stepped down because he has a staffer who has displayed a yard sign in opposition to sPower’s project and because he was approached – but did not accept – a lease offer years ago.
Judge Pollex will hear sPower’s complaint at 9 a.m. Monday inside a Seneca County Common Pleas courtroom in downtown Tiffin, according to a new docket filing in the case.In its complaint, Seneca Wind LLC, a subsidiary of sPower, accused 30 leaseholders of breach of contract by resisting sPower’s attempts to come onto their property.
Leases were signed in 2008, with an amendment in 2013.
At issue is what are authorized pre-construction activities, such as surveying. The company is required to limit its work to those activities until it gets authorization from the Ohio Power Siting Board to proceed to the construction phase.
The court complaint is separate from – though related to – the case sPower has before the siting board in Columbus. The state siting board is being asked to approve the developer’s application to proceed to the construction phase.
No tree removal for the wind farm itself is allowed before the construction phase begins.
But the siting board’s staff is OK with the developer doing limited tree removal between Feb. 11 and March 31 in some areas where it has filed a separate application for an $11 million substation and transmission line to connect to the proposed wind farm. That recommendation is part of what has gone to the agency’s governing board for approval.
Construction of the substation and the transmission line can’t begin before approval is granted for the wind farm itself, Matt Butler, siting board spokesman, said.
With a proposed 77 turbines across five townships, the Seneca Wind project would become one of Ohio’s largest wind farms for an industry moving rapidly into the Buckeye State. It would have a capacity of 212 megawatts, and bring $56 million to the region in terms of direct lease payments to property owners and payments in lieu of taxes to township boards and school districts.
The application needed to proceed to the construction phase is being heard by an administrative law judge, who is soon expected to approve a recommendation from the developer and the siting board staff to push the public hearing in the case back to the week of April 22. It had been scheduled for Feb. 19 at Tiffin University’s Marion Center.
Five hundred or more area residents have spoken out against the project at several rallies and public meetings but not before the state board which makes the decision. That’s the purpose of the upcoming public hearing.
It is to be followed by an adjudicatory hearing for lawyers on April 30 or later. That had been scheduled for March 6, inside the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio hearing room in Columbus but is now also likely to be delayed.
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