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Zoning board votes against DeWitt County wind farm

CLINTON – Opponents of a proposed DeWitt County wind farm scored a major victory Tuesday night before the Zoning Board of Appeals. After 35 hours of testimony from more than 100 witnesses in seven previous meetings, the ZBA voted 5-1 to forward Tradewind Energy’s special-use permit to the full County Board with a negative recommendation.

Members expressed concerns about public safety risks with weather radar interference, shadow flicker for non-participating residents and potential water drainage issues.

The County Board will consider the special-use permit later this spring, but the permit will be accompanied by the ZBA’s decision and an earlier negative recommendation from the county Regional Planning Commission.

“We are thrilled with the vote,” said Andrea Rhoades, who owns property in the footprint of the proposed project. “They listened to their constituents and their concerns related to this project. We would hope the County Board hears how the ZBA considered this and takes that into account when they make their decision.”

About 200 people attended the Tuesday night meeting at the Clinton High School, including representatives from the developer.

“This is a step along the way,” said project developer Tom Swierczewski. “We certainly appreciate the zoning board’s effort here because there were a lot of meetings to go through. But we look forward to making our case before the full County Board.

“Every project we do is a little better than the one before it, and we appreciate all of the public input, whether it be positive, negative or otherwise because the project will be that much better as a result.”

If the board gives approval for the special-use permit, Lenexa-Kan.-based Tradewind Energy would construct the $300 million Alta Farms II project in Barnett, Wapella and Clintonia townships in DeWitt County. The project is planned to include 67 individual wind turbines, which could extend up to 591 feet in total tower height, over 12,202 acres.

Ground could be broken this year and officials hope to have the wind farm online by 2020. But ZBA members said they had too many questions about the proposed project to give it a favorable recommendation.

“I am worried about endangering the public health,” said ZBA Chairman Andy Hedrick. “I received a letter this week from the superintendent of schools in Armstrong and he said that the kids in his schools have headaches and get sick because of the shadow flicker.”

Board member Mark Sterr said he was concerned about the public’s safety if bad weather threatens the area, after hearing testimony from Donald Waddell. He testified last month that the towers could affect radar of the National Weather Service in Lincoln and tornadoes could go undetected.

“That is a definite risk to public safety,” Sterr said.

Board member Dave Waters said he would like to see more guarantees about potential shadow flicker on non-participating homes.

“There should never be any flicker on any of those homes,” he said.

Board member Sarah Owens also said that the wind farm could hurt farmers in the future as well.

“They may not be able to add any more barns on their property because they would be too close to a tower,” she said. “No more barns and no more animals. We need to think about that.”

Only one member, John Griffin, expressed support for the project Tuesday.

“I have a home just outside the footprint of the wind farm and I don’t think it will affect my property values or the enjoyment of our grandchildren to come and enjoy our property,” he said. “We haven’t heard any opposition to harvesting wind energy. It’s just they want it done someplace else. We changed the rules and some have asked for more changes to the rules. But all the rules have been complied with as I see it.”

The County Board is expected to consider the permit at its April meeting.