MONTICELLO – The Piatt County Board will consider additional amendments to the current ordinance that are designed to protect drainage districts if a wind farm is approved.
In March, the Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals voted to recommend passage of some amendments drafted by Amy Rupiper, the Monticello attorney representing the DeLand Special Drainage District and Trenkle Slough Special Drainage District. Both are located in northern Piatt County in the footprint of the proposed Apex Energy Goose Creek Wind Project.
The Piatt County Board asked State’s Attorney Sarah Perry to write new language, taking into account the interests of both the wind farm and the drainage districts. Perry met with the parties and drafted a version for the zoning board to consider. Last week, Rupiper also sent a version for the board to consider.
“Both are well-written and both have some excellent points,” said zoning board Chairman Loyd Wax. “There are some that may need to be modified slightly by amendments to make them a little more clear and some of the suggested changes may or may not be an improvement. There is nothing that we are going to be able to come up with here today that is going to send everybody home with everything that they want.
“To my knowledge, we have never had a case where both parties have left happy and very pleased that they got everything they want. But we try to listen to the evidence and come to an objective decision that we hope will meet the satisfaction of a lot of both the proponents and the objectors. That is the best we can do.”
Apex: Permit in works
Apex Clean Energy is proposing a 300-megawatt project that would include approximately 60 turbines.
Apex officials have not yet filed a special-use permit but have indicated they plan to in the summer or fall. Drainage district officials voiced concerns after damage was done to several tiles in DeWitt County on a similar project. Apex attorney Mark Gershon said the wind farm will continue to work with the county and drainage districts to ease concerns.
“I think the state’s attorney spent a lot of time working on this,” he said. “There were things that we asked for that she rejected. There were things that Amy asked for that were rejected. This is burdensome for us and has a lot of requirements, but we are going to do it because there were some good compromises that the state’s attorney reached but some of these changes significantly change what our intentions were.”
Both parties agreed having an agreement with the drainage districts in place before any work begins was necessary. But the board was focused on language dealing with what happens when a deal can’t be made.
In Perry’s recommendation, she suggested the wind-farm company provide a detailed, written explanation of attempts to finish a deal and what steps had been taken to work out a compromise before moving forward. Rupiper’s version suggested the wind-farm company not do any type of work in or near the drainage district until a deal was agreed upon.
“I don’t want there to be any confusion or room for interpretation that the Illinois Drainage Code applies here,” she said. “Nobody has the right to use any drainage district facilities without the consent or the agreement of the applicable drainage district’s commission.
“They have exclusive jurisdiction over their own facilities. I don’t want to be coming back here in five years arguing about this.”
‘Follow the law’
Gershon argued the company doesn’t want drainage districts to have the power to stop the issuance of a building permit, therefore putting the installation of a wind turbine in jeopardy.
“What gets lost is that drainage districts are not under the county’s jurisdiction,” he said.
“These are stand-alone, independent governmental entities. They have their own rights. … The drainage code is 170 pages long, I think. There are a lot of requirements there. I don’t think you should try to rewrite this anymore than if I get a construction permit from you and you tell me ‘Oh, by the way, you have to follow the speed requirements while you are driving the highway.’ The answer is you have to follow the law.”
The zoning board approved language – if no agreement can be reached with the drainage district – that requires the owner/operator of the wind farm to provide a written statement describing its attempts to reach an agreement with the drainage district’s commission regarding the drainage district’s facilities.
“We appreciate the zoning board’s thoughtful consideration of the drainage amendment, and we are pleased a draft of the amendment will now proceed to the county board,” said Josh Hartke, Illinois field manager for Apex Energy. “We remain committed to ensuring that the final version of this amendment protects the county’s drainage facilities, while honoring the rights of those landowners who wish to host wind energy facilities on their property.”
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