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Wind farm gets second rejection from DeWitt County Zoning Board

CLINTON – A special-use permit for DeWitt County’s first wind farm will be considered by the DeWitt County Board this spring, but for the second time, the application comes before the board attached with negative recommendations from the county’s Regional Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

On Thursday night, the ZBA rejected the special-use permit by a 5-1 vote after 17 nights of testimony from Tradewind Energy and opponents of the proposed Alta Winds Farm project for the 12,000-acre project in Barnett, Wapella and Clintonia townships. The permit will be forwarded to the county board but a date on when the board will consider the permit has not yet been announced.

“We remain confident in the application, which clearly meets or exceeds all of DeWitt County’s ordinance requirements and details a first-rate wind farm that will be an asset to the entire community,” said Tom Swierczewski, senior development director for Tradewind Energy. “We look forward to the next step in the approval process and to bringing this project and its many community benefits to fruition.”

The total cost of the project is estimated to be between $200 million and $250 million and would add 66 turbines up to 599 feet in southwestern DeWitt County.

Tradewind began development of the project in 2007 by initiating a leasing campaign and went into full development in 2016. The company has a contract to sell power generated by the project with the Indiana Municipal Power Agency.

In September 2017, Alta Farms submitted a special-use permit application to the county, which also was rejected by the planning commission, the zoning board and finally, on April 25, 2018, by the county board.

The project faced opposition from non-participating landowners in the footprint of the project such as Andrea Rhoades, who campaigned against the project in the first round, as well as both the RPC and ZBA hearings in late 2019 and early 2020. She said she was “thrilled” that for the second time, the ZBA has not recommended approval of the permit to the full board.

“The board shared our concerns around health, safety and the enjoyment of the property for the non-participating residents,” she said. “They also discussed how this application does not comply with our zoning ordinances. We are hopeful that the county board will take the recommendation from the ZBA, who listened to 17 days of testimony, and vote no on this application.”

In submitting the plan, Tradewind officials said the second permit included nearly a year’s worth of additional development activities such as engineering work on the wind farm design and public road improvements, final geotechnical work, and landowner approval of the site plan.

Tradewind Energy officials said they worked to ease resident’s concerns about the impact the wind farm could have on weather radar and have had discussions with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. The new application includes wording to that effect.

“As a result, Alta Farms will voluntarily curtail turbine operations (feather blades to minimize blade rotation) as soon as reasonably feasible after issuance and for the duration of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings in DeWitt County issued by the NWS.”

If approved by the county board, Alta Farms intends to begin construction in 2020 with commercial operation targeted by the end of 2021. Officials estimate it would add 234 new jobs during construction in DeWitt County and 20 new long-term jobs for DeWitt County. Tradewind Energy also estimated the project would bring in more than $22 million in total school district revenue for the Clinton School District and more than $4.6 million in total county property taxes.