TIFFIN – Thirty area landowners won’t have to let sPower on their property to do the work the Utah-based developer argued was necessary to keep its proposed Seneca Wind project on schedule.
Retired Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex, assigned by the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on the company’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed it to cut down trees and do remaining surveying work on the private property, ruled in favor of the landowners.
In his eight-page ruling, the judge said the Ohio Constitution “places great importance on the rights of property owners” and had little sympathy for sPower’s argument that it was running out of time to keep the project on schedule because of annual restrictions on clear-cutting that take effect March 31 to protect endangered bats.
Although sPower only came into possession of signed leases a few years ago, the judge noted that it and its predecessor had more than a decade in most cases. The company asserts there was a clause that automatically renewed the leases after the initial 10-year contracts had expired.
Dan Williamson, sPower spokesman, said that the company believes its leases with landowners are valid.
Judge Rollex held off ruling on the validity of leases for now, but said he was denying sPower’s request for the preliminary injunction – in other words, denying the company’s request to go on private property to do its work whether landowners agreed or not.
“The Court finds the public interest would not be served by granting the Injunction,” the judge wrote.
Chris Aichholz, Seneca Anti-Wind Union spokesman, said the citizens group – which opposes the proposed wind farm – is pleased by the ruling.
“This will protect these landowners’ property rights by not allowing sPower/Seneca Wind access to their land,” he said.
The judge said his ruling is “precisely why Ohio statutes prohibit the clearing of land until a certificate is issued by the [Ohio Power Siting Board.]”
The case is in Seneca County Common Pleas Court. It involves 31 tracts of land owned by 30 landowners.
Seneca Wind is a massive, 212-megawatt project proposed by an sPower subsidiary, Seneca Wind LLC, that would rank among Ohio’s largest wind farms if the Ohio Power Siting Board grants approval this summer.
The project calls for 77 turbines to be erected across 25,000 acres of privately leased land in Seneca County. It carries an estimated $56 million impact through combined lease payments to property owners and payments in lieu of taxes to local communities.
The company’s website shows it has developed numerous wind and solar projects across the country, especially in California and the Northeast.