CLINTON — Members of the DeWitt County Board will be in the hot seat next month after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted Tuesday to recommend the county deny a special use permit for the Alta Farms wind energy project.
The ZBA voted 5-1 to send the matter to the full board for final consideration with a recommendation to not grant the permit.
After approximately 25 hours of testimony during a series of ZBA hearings, ZBA members met Tuesday to discuss their concerns about the project. ZBA member John Griffin entered a motion to grant the permit and read a statement of support for the project.
Griffin has a farm in Barnett Township.
“Our home is just outside the boundary of the wind turbines, but they will influence our home and property 24/7,” Griffin said. “Grandchildren will continue to come to enjoy the property. Regardless of which study on property values I review, I am confident that if a decision would be made to sell, there would be willing buyers that would be willing to pay a price significantly higher than my cost.”
Griffin said he listened to the presentation during the ZBA hearings and read “hundreds of pages” of testimony.
“I cannot recall any opposition to harvesting wind for energy, ‘just do it some other place’,” he said.
Griffin said he felt the zoning members had worked to accommodate those opposing the wind farm with regard to issues such as the warning light system, set-back distances and tower height, although other ZBA members felt they had not yet received a satisfactory answer about the planned height of the towers.
He also felt Tradewind had complied with the county’s original wind energy rules under the ordinance, but then those rules were changed.
ZBA chairman Andy Hedrick related a letter he received from the superintendent of the Armstrong, Ill. school district describing illness in school children there he believed was the result of shadow flicker from nearby wind towers. Hedrick himself said one of his sons no longer can travel near the towers in Macon County because he suffers from vertigo.
Mark Sterr said testimony given about wind farm interference with weather radar caused him concern.
“I hadn’t considered that prior to Mr. Waddell’s presentation, but that definitely causes me to have some concerns about public safety,” Sterr said.
Sterr also said he felt that enough residents in the area of the wind farm would receive a sufficient number of hours of shadow flicker to constitute loss of enjoyment of their properties. One of the requirements of the ordinance is that a project cannot be “injurious to the use and enjoyment” of a person’s property.
Dave Waters agreed with Sterr and said he felt most of the shadow flicker could be better controlled or eliminated. Waters felt shadow flicker should be controlled sufficiently so as to result in no flicker on the residences of non-participating land owners.
A key issue for chairman Hedrick was the potential effect the project would have on drainage districts in the area of the wind farm. He feared the deep digging necessary for erecting the towers would damage the carefully planned system of drainage tiles.
Hedrick expressed concern that there was no recourse for non-participating land owners if a broken or re-routed tile caused damage to their property.
“I think before we move, we ought to have a firm, firm agreement on who’s going to fix tiles and are they going to be fixed right and that they aren’t going to change the flow of the water,” he said.
Other ZBA members shared Hedrick’s concern.
ZBA member Steve Perring said he understood land owners’ feelings they should be able to decide how to manage their own properties. But, he said he also understood that neighboring property owners should be able to enjoy their homes as well.
“Someone has to look out for those people’s rights, too,” Perring said.
Perring also felt Tradewind did not have a clear strategy for decommissioning the wind towers when the farm outlived its usefulness.
“I’ve heard some people say, ‘well, it’s just farm ground’,” Perring said. “Well, tell me what you had for lunch and where that came from.”
None of the ZBA members expressed any opposition to wind energy. At least one member said he supported green energy. But, the consensus among members was they had not received enough detailed information about key aspects of the proposed Alta Farms project.
On the Alta Farms Facebook page, Tradewind Energy development director Tom Swierczewski thanked the ZBA to reviewing their application and for listening to the public. Swierczeski wrote that he believed “our application is complete and fully meets the requirements of the zoning ordinance.”
He concluded that he looked forward to the county board’s consideration.
The county board likely will review the ZBA’s recommendation to deny the special use permit for Tradewind in April, possibly during a special meeting. The board could accept the ZBA recommendation simply by not bringing the matter up for a vote. This would prevent Tradewind from receiving the permit.
The county board also could decide to reject the ZBA recommendation and vote to approve the special use permit. This would be in contradiction to the board’s historical pattern of accepting the recommendations of its committees and boards to which it appoints members.