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New wind farm approved in Marshall County

LACON – The Marshall County Board cleared the way Thursday for development of a new wind farm in Bennington Township in the southeastern corner of the county.

The board voted 9-1 to grant Minonk Stewardship Wind LLC a special use permit for the Bennington Wind project, which is expected to consist of 33 turbines in a rural area southeast of Toluca, just west of Interstate 39 and north of the Woodford County line.

The development resurrected a smaller, earlier project that had been permitted in that area several years ago but was never built. It’s a joint project of Chicago-based Akuo Energy USA and Stewardship Energy LLC of Tiskilwa.

The project sparked opposition among some residents, and the board vote followed an hour of public comment that largely echoed objections at a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing about noise, “shadow flicker,” and possible health issues. That panel voted 2–2, with one abstention, on whether to recommend board approval.

“People have to learn to cope with the change in the scenery,” board member Marty McLaughlin said Thursday.

Groundwork is expected to take place next year, and the 2.8-megawatt turbines will start arriving in May 2021, said Akuo project manager Nick Gebauer.

“Then we would begin operating in September 2021,” Gebauer added.

The project is expected to create some 148 temporary jobs during the construction period and about 11 permanent positions for the continuing operation, developers said. Based on the state’s assessment methods, it’s projected to generate about $1.1 million in new property tax revenues the first year of operation and $22.4 million over its 30-year life, according to calculations presented by an economist.

“We really think this is a great opportunity for the county,” said Gebauer. “That (amount of income) would be very hard to get from another source.”

As the largest tax recipient, the Fieldcrest School District would get about $718,000 the first year and a 30-year total of $14.3 million, according to estimates. That would enable the enable the district to address the need for multi-million-dollar building improvements without placing the entire burden on current taxpayers, said Assistant Superintendent Kari Rockwell, who will become superintendent in January.

“That would help relieve our taxpayers as well as keep our children safe,” she said.

The sole dissenting vote was cast by Rebecca Donna, who lives in that area and has previously opposed the project as both a private citizen and ZBA member. She said 33 people had asked her to vote against it.

“As board members, I think it’s our duty and diligence to support our residents,” Donna said.

Chairman Gary Kroeschen, who lives in Toluca, said he understood that some people are strongly opposed. But wind farms are allowed by county ordinance, Kroeschen pointed out, and he didn’t think government should be telling property-owners how to use their land.

“I think this is going to be good for the community as a whole,” Kroeschen said. “The county needs to decide how they want to support things. You can’t keep supporting it on the backs of farmers and the people in town paying taxes on their homes.”

One of several conditions placed on the permit at the suggestion of zoning administrator Patrick Sloan was that the company offer a “good neighbor fee” of at least $250 a year to residents who live within a half-mile of a turbine but are not participating landowners. In fact, Akuo has already exceeded that by unilaterally offering a $1,000 annual fee, according to officials and some residents.

If built, it will be Marshall County’s second wind farm. The Camp Grove Wind farm has 60 turbines in the western part of the county, along with 40 in neighboring Stark County.

“We have a lot of wind turbines out there….I really hear no negative comments about the wind farm,” said board member Debbie Daykin, who also is supervisor of LaPrairie Township. “LaPrairie Township received a nice amount of money for our roads (through a road use agreement). We have some of the best roads in the county, thanks to our wind farm.”