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Watch now: DeWitt County approves wind farm proposal

CLINTON – The DeWitt County Board cleared the way for the county’s first wind farm Tuesday, narrowly approving a special use permit to allow the project in three northwestern townships near Waynesville and Wapella.

In a 90-minute outdoor meeting on the Square in downtown Clinton on Tuesday night, the board voted 6-5 to allow Tradewind Energy to move forward with plans to build up to 66 towers no higher than 599 feet for the Alta Farms II project.

In April 2019, the board rejected Tradewind Energy’s first application after board members criticized it for not being complete and having too many unanswered questions.

“We greatly appreciate the time afforded to this project by the county board during this incredibly challenging period,” said Tom Swierczewski, lead developer of the project. “Alta Farms has enjoyed significant community support since it was initially proposed nearly 10 years ago, and we are excited to begin construction and put hundreds of local residents to work on what will be a first-rate wind farm that is an asset to the entire community.

“While we are proud of the project we will be building, we also know there are continued concerns from some, and promise to work in good faith toward a long-term mutually beneficial partnership with the entire community.”

One change from the April 2019 vote was the absence of board member Cole Ritter, whose abstention because of a conflict of interest had essentially counted as a “no” vote. On Tuesday, he was not present and could not be reached for comment. Ritter lives in the district where the project is planned.

None of the remaining 11 board members changed from the positions they took in last year’s vote.

About 250 people attended the meeting, including many who opposed the project.

“It has made clear that a non-participating owner’s rights will be violated with this project,” said Andrea Rhoades, who has led an organized effort against the project.

Don Waddell, also of rural DeWitt County, said he is concerned about radar from the National Weather Service. Weather service meteorologists have said that the massive size of the turbines and the wind they generate can create interference on nearby Doppler radar, which could display something that looks like rain or a storm in error.

“A town like Wapella would be in danger if the turbines interfere with the radar, which we know that they will because they have in the past in other areas, such as Maroa,” he said.

“This will cause undue hardship on our family,” said Jodi Turney, a DeWitt County resident who lives near the proposed project.

The board approved adding several minor conditions to the project but rejected others, including compensation for non-participating owners and elimination of two turbines that could cause shadow-flicker for non-participating property owners.

Prior to the vote, board member Melonie Tilley reminded the board that the Regional Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals had previously forwarded the application with negative recommendations.

“Both of those boards voted to deny twice,” she said. “We appoint those boards and they spent hundreds of hours listening to testimony and studying. I think we should listen to them.”

Board member Terry Ferguson said he had concerns because there were still gaps in the permit’s application.

“Words in our ordinances mean things,” he said. “To not fly with our ordinances, I feel just sets up for some bad outcomes … I think there is pretty good evidence that a lot of the six criteria for the special use permit has not been met.”

Board member Nate Ennis said shadow-flicker problems, decommissioning agreements and complaint resolution issues had not been settled. “Before this hearing, the zoning officer declared this application was not complete,” he added.

Some minor conditions were added on, but several board members still had questions about a decommissioning agreement. Decommissioning is the process of removing wind turbines and returning land to its original condition.

“Any decommissioning agreement must be satisfied before a building permit can be issued,” said Board Chairman Dave Newberg.

Swierczewski said company officials worked hard to satisfy any issues.

“Tonight is the accumulation of a long process that began back in August of 2019,” Swierczewski said. “It included many nights of meetings and discussions with the Regional Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals. It included 17 nights and testimony from more than 200 people.

“Everyone’s voice has been heard and all of the questions have been answered. This application meets all six of the necessary requirements for the special use permit.”