MONTICELLO – An amendment designed to protect the interests of drainage districts during construction of wind turbines will be considered by the Piatt County Board in April.
Last week, the Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals voted to recommend passage of the amendment drafted by Amy Rupiper, the Monticello attorney representing the DeLand Special Drainage District and Trenkle Slough Special Drainage District. Both drainage districts are located in the proposed Goose Creek Wind Project in northern Piatt County.
“The ordinance currently in place (passed on March 10, 2021), does not adequately protect the interests of the drainage districts in Piatt County,” Rupiper told the ZBA on March 24.
The language under consideration requires a special use permit applicant to include a written determination accompanied by maps or surveys if any drainage ditches are likely to be affected by the installation of a Wind Energy Conversion (WEC). If so, then the applicant is required to forward a certified copy of the full application to the drainage commissioner within three days of filing the application with the county.
The language also requires a wind farm developer to identify all drainage district facilities including surface drains, underground drainage tiles, open drainage ditches, culverts, and water gathering vaults that are impacted or potentially impacted by the WEC equipment. This includes the crossing or use of any drainage easement along, above or under drainage district facilities.
Rupiper told the ZBA that the issue was discussed at a recent state drainage district meeting where DeWitt County drainage districts voiced concerns about a lack of protection during the construction of the Alta Farms Wind Farm. In one incident, she said, the developers attempted to put a wind turbine over a drainage tile.
In Piatt County, Apex Clean Energy is proposing a 300 megawatt project that would include approximately 60 turbines. Apex officials expect to file the Special Use Permit in the summer or fall.
Rupiper told the ZBA that Apex Clean Energy already has similar agreements in place with the road commissioners in Piatt County and a similar agreement should be in place to protect the drainage districts.
“This is still agricultural ground and it’s going to continue to be used as farm ground even after the wind turbines are decommissioned,” she said. “The drainage ditches and the tiling that are there, are the result of 100 years of work. Drainage ditches have been in existence in Piatt County since at least 1902. We have a position of neutrality on the wind farms, but we want to make sure that everyone understands that they have to get permission to use any of our facilities.”
Alan Moore, a senior development manager for Apex, argued the amendment was unnecessary because the company is prepared to work with the drainage districts.
“We know drainage is critically important to Piatt County,” he said. “It’s the number one thing we hear from landowners that we talk to and it’s something we take seriously as a company. As Amy pointed out, this all rose from the actions of a developer in a neighboring county when they were constructing and they impacted a district’s tile without either the district’s knowledge or in coordination with them and possibly didn’t remediate with them. Everyone in my company can certainly agree that is not the way it should be handled.
“It’s absolutely the developer’s role and responsibility to coordinate with drainage districts when we impact them or impact their right of way.”
Moore and Apex attorney Mark Gershon offered the board alternative language which specified agreements would be made only with drainage districts directly impacted by the construction.
“It’s really just a question of whether the county can give us a building permit if we don’t have an agreement with someone who is not impacted,” Gershon said. “That is really the big question.”
Several Piatt County drainage district representatives attended the meeting, asking the board to recommend the proposed amendment to the full board.
“I am on a drainage district and I just wanted to say this isn’t a witch hunt against Apex,” said Derek Trimble, a DeLand-area farmer. “We just want the language right from the start and going forward so that we don’t have issues come up later that we can’t try to control and get along together in this process.”
Ralph King, a commissioner with the Trenkle Slough Special Drainage District said the additional language would help maintain the land.
“We need protection to maintain the facilities put into place by our grandfathers,” he said.
The Piatt County Board is expected to vote on the text amendment at its April 13 meeting.
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