MONTICELLO – A special use permit for the construction of a wind farm is expected to be filed in Piatt County at any time.
Last Wednesday, Kent Dougherty, vice president of development at Apex Energy, told the Piatt County Board that the company is finalizing the special use permit application.
“We hope to get that application in as early as next week or the week after,” he said.
“If we are able to work efficiently as partners toward a reasonable permit schedule and get the permit by the end of the year, that keeps us on schedule for 2023 construction.”
But Dougherty added that company officials understand the process of approval takes time.
“The year 2023 is not a deal-killer for the project,” he added. “It is a very strong project and our fall-back would be 2024, although, we are very eager and hope we can get it done in 2023.”
Several residents spoke out against the proposed project during the public comment period.
“Every decision concerning the industrial wind farm has seemingly been in favor of Apex Energy,” said Claudia Coil. “The so-called compromises concerning setbacks, noise, flicker, and heights have all favored Apex. The final decision to proceed with this project will irrevocably change Piatt County forever.”
In anticipation of the filing of the permit, the board approved a pair of agreements and tabled another.
First, the board approved an agreement which would require Apex to pay for costs for attorney fees for road usage contracts.
“This has nothing to do with the approval of a potential wind farm,” said Piatt County Engineer Eric Seibring. “This is an agreement so that Apex Energy will pay the highway department and the townships’ costs for an attorney associated with the development of a road use agreement.”
A road use agreement is the agreement that is formed between the wind farm and the highway agencies basically setting the rules that everyone will abide by during construction. This is a time-consuming process, a several-month process in order to get that agreement done, Seibring added.
After consulting with State’s Attorney Sarah Perry, an outside counsel was chosen. Sheryl Churney of the Springfield law firm of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins has experience with wind farms and highway agreements.
But some board members questioned entering into such deals before a permit was even submitted.
“It seems like it puts the cart before the horse,” said Piatt County Board Member Gail Jones. “It has that air about it.”
“It just doesn’t benefit Apex, it benefits us,” Seibring replied. “It allows us to be proactive instead of reactive.”
The agreement also covers the fees for an outside engineering firm to come in during the process to review all of the work done by Apex on the county’s behalf.
“This allows the engineering firm to do that work at the expense of Apex,” Seibring added. “My office wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
Seibring said it protects the county from not having to spend any money and also keeps officials up to date.
“It helps to alleviate a little bit of pressure in the back end because there won’t be any pressure from Apex or any wind farm company saying ‘We have to do this, we have to go, we have to sign this here, here and here. The quicker we get started on it, the more information we have up front, at no cost to us.”
The board also approved a similar agreement that requires Apex Energy to pay for an independent consultant to study the special use permit when submitted.
But the board tabled an agreement with Apex Energy on shared revenue.
“There is a lot of legal stuff in this agreement and we just received it on Monday and it is over my head,” said Board Member Jerry Edwards. “They don’t provide a map where the turbines are located and there is just not enough information here….. This is not transparency here. This happened too fast and I don’t like some of the verbiage and I don’t like signing our life away.”
“I totally agree,” added Board Member Randy Shumard. “This is one of those things where the public needs to be well-informed. I also think that the question of a wind farm needs to be a referendum and put on the ballot so the residents of the county can have a say. I suggest March of next year. Let’s put it on a referendum and let the people vote.”
The board tabled the vote on the revenue sharing agreement.
No funds for White Heath celebration
Sangamon Township Trustee Mike Nolan asked the board for $750 to help celebrate the 150th year for White Heath on Sept. 10.
After his plea, there were no motions to grant the request.
“As far as funding for activities in the communities, we used to have a line item for that,” said County Board Chairman Ray Spencer. “We used to have Antique Days which we supported, and several other things. But we have no line item for those things now.”
“I think you are setting a precedent, too on other activities, too,” added Shumard.
“There are several activities such as that,” Spencer added. “There is the Mansfield Homecoming. Bement has a day coming up. DeLand is getting ready to have a celebration next year, as well as Cerro Gordo and Atwood. If we want to do that, we have to talk about that at budget time, but right now, we have no line item to take that money from.”
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