Ford County Zoning Officer Brandon Magers announced March 22 that he was issuing building permits to APEX Clean Energy for forty-six, with an additional seven alternate Wind Energy Conversion Systems compromising the Ford Ridge Wind Farm which will be located primarily in Sullivant Township.
This comes after Magers previously had denied the building permits citing discrepancies between the original plans which were approved in 2009 and the building permit applications which were submitted in September of 2020. Those discrepancies included the use of larger turbines, taller towers and rotor diameters, the lack of an updated noise study, and the relocation of the towers.
APEX appealed the decision of Magers to the Ford County Zoning Board of Appeals which was set to hear the appeal this Thursday, March 25, 2021 beginning at 5 p.m. at the Kruse Center in Gibson City.
“In reviewing the materials that APEX submitted in support of their appeal, it became clear that, due to the actions on behalf of the County over the last 12 years, it was unlikely that my initial decision would be supported at the ZBA appeal hearing, much less if challenged in court, and as such, I have a duty to the taxpayers, landowners, and developers to follow the law, even when I personally take issue with the process.”
When the Ford County Board initially approved the Special Use Permits for the Ford Ridge Project, they did not enact a Special Use Conditions Agreement with BP Wind Energy, the original developer of the project. Such an Agreement governs the project should there be modifications between approval of the Special Use Permits and actual construction.
“For instance, the Agreement could require a developer to begin construction within a certain period of time, use designated brand and turbine sized units, limit the tower and tip height of the units in the project, and pinpoint the location of each unit. If the developer wished to change any of those conditions following the issuance of the SUPs, they would be required to submit an amendment that would require ZBA approval.”
“For whatever reason, the Board in 2009 did not enact such restrictions on the SUPs issued to the original developer. Additionally, the current ordinance allows a developer to seek a renewal of their SUPs if the project construction is not commenced within the original three-year life of the SUP. These permits were renewed by the ZBA in 2012, 2015, and 2018.”
“Evidence was presented in APEX’s appeal that tends to show, at least in 2015 and 2018, the ZBA and County Zoning Officer at the time were notified that the project would be modified due to advances in technology and efficiency of wind turbines over the more than a decade from BP’s original application.”
“Ford County’s current ordinance also requires developers to use “new equipment commercially available” to be installed in Wind Farm projects absent a variance by the ZBA. APEX provided a letter from GE, the planned manufacturer of the turbines to be used in the Ford Ridge project that the original turbines proposed in 2009 were no longer commercially available, thus necessitating the increase from 1.5 MW units to 2.82 MW units.”
The larger units mean that fewer towers will be installed, but that those towers will be taller with a larger rotor diameter of the blades to operate the turbines.
“While it would have made sense for BP to begin construction immediately following the issuance of the Special Use Permits in 2009, the fact that the ZBA extended the SUPs three times, after being notified that the project was changing and could involve units, towers, and rotor diameters larger than originally planned, ties my hands with regard to the building permits.”
“I am not in favor of how this all played out from the County Board in 2009 to the ZBA extensions granted in 2012, 2015, and 2018, but after consulting with the prior Zoning Enforcement Officer, other Zoning Administrators, and extensive consultation with the Andrew Killian, the Ford County State’s Attorney, it became clear, that the facts and law were on APEX’s side, limiting my options greatly.”
“It is my intent, after going through this experience, to work closely with the County Zoning Committee, the County Board and ZBA to make sure whatever amendments are enacted by the Board address this situation to make sure either myself or my successors never are put in this position again.”