Thursday, January 22, 2015
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Logan County Board denies Relight Wind Farm request

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[January 22, 2015]  LINCOLN - The Logan County board took their vote on the potential wind farm that applied for a conditional use permit in Logan County last night.  Before the vote was taken, the board members listened to nearly an hour-and-a-half of testimony from both sides of the issue.

Relight and Meridian LLC applied for a conditional use permit in order to build a series of wind towers. The area in question is located south and west of Mount  Pulaski, with towers stretching into Elkhart and Broadwell.  The wind farm would consist of 81 wind turbines, collector lines, sub-stations, transmissions lines, access roads, meteorological towers and related appurtenances. 

The zoning request went through the standard pre-screening processes.  In November the Regional Planning Commission recommended the application be approved.  The Zoning Board of Appeals did not successfully make a recommendation, as their motion to approve resulted in a split vote of two-to-two.

Robert Paladino, the representative and Vice President of Relight US, was given a final opportunity to speak to the board.  Paladino said he understands the difficulty of a decision like this one.  Paladino also reminded the board members of the research materials that were provided to the board, and that none of the research he provided contained proof of negative effects on health or surrounding property values due to the presence of turbines.

Paladino also said that the frequent references in opposing studies to a decision made in Brown County, Wisconsin regarding wind farms and negative health effects is not based in scientific fact.  Paladino said he could not find scientific evidence to support the decision made in Wisconsin.

“The Brown County decision was based on a report that has never seen the light of day,” said Paladino.

Larry Cyrulik of Mount Pulaski addressed the board after Paladino.  Cyrulik reiterated that any new industry that comes to Logan County will bring new jobs and new tax dollars, both of which would be good for the county.

Michael Nichols spoke next.  Nichols said that the offer of monetary compensation by Relight for living in the footprint of the project would not be make it worth “losing sleep for thirty years for $500 a year.”  Nichols also said he was never approached by Relight prior to the ZBA hearings, which seems questionable in terms of business practices.

Chris Cowen provided copies of a correspondence with a researcher studying wind farms of the same size and power output as Relight’s turbines in Pennsylvania.  According to the study, infrasound and turbine noise would likely lead to people moving out of their homes.  “These are not a figment of the imagination; these are real people,” said Cowen.

Cowen also said that the tax money generated by the presence of the wind farm is not necessary for the school districts or the county to do well.  “It’s because of the community.  We pull together and knit together and put things together,” said Cowen.

Lisa Leonard added to the discussion on property taxes.  According to state tax law, tax rates on wind farms in the state could go down after the first year, due to the current rates expiring in 2016.  In addition, current laws allow for turbines to depreciate in value down to thirty percent, which would reduce the taxes earned for the county.  “At best, we have one year of guaranteed revenue,” said Leonard.

Ryan Mott reiterated that General Electric, the manufacturer of the turbines used by Relight, recommends a further setback from roadways than the limits set by the county.  Mott said that twenty-eight percent of the turbines will be closer than said recommendation.  “That twenty-eight percent is only county and state highways.  That doesn’t count any of the township roads that will be affected,” said Mott.

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Dan Fulscher asked if Relight planned on providing aid in emergency situations should they arise on the wind farm.  Paladino said that the employees would all undergo emergency preparedness training, and local emergency personnel will be invited to take part in those programs.

Before public comments were closed, Paladino spoke once again.  Paladino said that the research showing a link between infrasound and health problems is inherently biased against wind farm development.  Paladino also said that nobody from the currently operating wind farm in Logan County has come forward with any complaints.  

Pat O’Neill made a motion to approve of the conditional use permit, with Chuck Ruben as a second.  Emily Davenport made a motion to amend by attaching said conditions, which were approved with a vote of seven-to-five, with Gene Rohlfs, Scott Schaffenacher, Andy Anderson, Rick Aylesworth and David Blankenship voting no.  Another condition was added in the form of a requirement that decommissioning funds increase yearly with inflation over the course of the project.

The county board has the authority to attach conditions in a situation such as this, in which the ZBA has no recommendation.  The county board would not be able to add conditions later, after such a permit is approved.

Ruben said that from a personal view, the turbines do not seem to pose a problem.  Ruben, who lives in Emden, said he has towers on his property.  “Nobody in that area has voiced any concerns to me,” said Ruben.  “They become part of the landscape to me.  But that’s personal.  Aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder.”

In addition, Ruben said the county does have to consider the financial benefits to this project.  “We’re low on funds at the county level.  We’re struggling to maintain a budget and keep our heads above water,” said Ruben.

After the discussion on amendments was finished, the final vote on the motion to approve the application was taken.  The vote resulted in a tie of six-to-six.  O’Neill, Ruben, Hepler, Bateman, Davenport, and Farmer voted yes; Rohlfs, Schaffenacher, Schumacher, Anderson, Aylesworth, and Blankenship voted no. As the motion did not generate sufficient votes to earn a majority, the motion is considered a failure, and the permit is denied.   

Board members present at the meeting were David Hepler, Chuck Ruben, Gene Rohlfs, Robert Farmer, David Blankenship, Pat O’Neill, Andy Anderson, Emily Davenport, Kevin Bateman, Jan Schumacher, Rick Aylesworth, and Scott Schaffenacher. 

[Derek Hurley]

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