CLINTON — Representatives of Tradewind Energy have become frustrated over the county’s handling of the company’s special use permit application, and they expressed worry that advisory boards were setting policy.
Tradewind’s first special use application for its Alta Farms wind energy project was rejected early this year. In August, the company submitted a second, revised application to deal with some concerns expressed during the April hearings for the permit. But, on Tuesday, Tradewind project development manager Tom Swierczewski told members of the county’s land use committee the process was taking too long. He also told committee members the county wasn’t following its own procedure for approving permits.
“So, here we are, it’s November 12, the Regional Planning Commission meeting is another week away, …and the Zoning Board of Appeals hearings are another seven weeks after that meeting in January,” Swierczewski said.
Special use applications advance from the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and then to the full county board for a final ruling. RPC and the ZBA move the applications to the next level, with either a “recommended” or “not recommended” advisory before the county board rules.
Earlier debate among land use committee members and during full board meetings have involved primarily the issue of the completeness of Tradewind’s second permit application. While that issue appears to have been resolved, according to comments made by board members during the October meeting, there clearly has been a division on the board regarding details of Tradewind’s application.
Tradewind representatives have asserted their application is complete based on the requirements in the county wind energy ordinance. Claims by board members opposed to the project that the application was not complete centered on items that appeared to be beyond the scope of the ordinance.
During Tuesday’s land use committee meeting, no committee member raised the issue with each other or with Swierczewski.
Swierczewski said his company was grateful the hearings for the second permit were now finally scheduled, but he said the process followed for Tradewind’s application had not followed the county’s standard procedure under the code, “and that really should concern this committee.”
He said one reason the process had gone so slowly could be that, “the RPC has been busy concocting another round of anti-wind text amendments this past fall, seemingly without any direction from county officials.”
*** Some history ***
In 2015, when county officials attended hearings in Macon County on that area’s pending EON wind energy project, no local residents attended DeWitt County land use meetings. During those land use meetings, members discussed the Macon County project as the committee worked to prepare its own wind ordinance in preparation for future wind energy projects in DeWitt County. The Clinton Journal reported on those meetings.
The Journal has reported on the Tradewind project since 2008.
In July 2017, a retired engineer addressed the county board about a meteorological tower erected north of Wapella by Tradewind. It wasn’t until February 2018, when two residents from the Waynesville area proposed text amendments to the county’s wind energy ordinance, that other residents in the area of the planned project, and also from Clinton, began attending county meetings on the issue.
Tradewind had requested that the current slate of ZBA hearings be scheduled before the end of this year. Swierczewski said he learned that the ZBA decided to review the RPC’s new text amendments to the code in December rather than schedule hearings on the permit.
“We also find that unacceptable,” he said.
Swierczewski asked land use committee members when the RPC’s application for new text amendments was filed and when did the county board authorize a public hearing on the proposed text amendments?
He also suggested that the appointed members of the RPC and the ZBA were “sidestepping” the county’s elected officials in the decision-making process.
Swierczewski asked why the county only recently posted the proposed text amendments to its website, since the RPC began discussing them in September.
Apparently, too, the county is insisting Tradewind pay for a private venue to host the January ZBA public hearings because no other location is available at that time, Swierczewski said on Tuesday.
The alternative offered by the county was to postpone the hearings until a public venue was available. In April, hearings were held in the Clinton High School auditorium.
Swierczewski said he felt the suggestion was unacceptable and that there had been too many delays.
Tradewind already has paid more than $100,000 in application fees.
Tradewind had offered to pay for a private venue to hold hearings, but company representatives hoped hearings would be held before the end of 2019. Swierczewski said his company still has space reserved for hearings in December at the Abigail Room.
“We’ve had those reserved for weeks,” he told committee members.
He said Tradewind was going along with what the county wanted.
“Ultimately, what choice do I have,” Swierczewski asked. “I ask that this committee continue to pay close attention to all of the unfair and strange events taking place around this application. They really should concern you.”