Saturday, June 28, 2008
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Wind farm hearings contentious

Round 4 at the Zoning Board of Appeals

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[June 28, 2009] HARTSBURG -- A huge, 3-foot-in-diameter fan wasn't enough to cool the stifling air in the Hartsburg-Emden High School gymnasium on Thursday evening. And things only got hotter as the evening wore into a three-hour bout over a wind farm that is proposed for northern Logan County.

ChiropracticThis was the fourth in a series of public hearings held by the Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals. Horizon Wind Energy has requested conditional use of parcels zoned for agriculture, where the turbines would be placed. The company would erect 29 wind turbines in Orville and Eminence townships for Rail Splitter Wind Farm.

Attorney Rick Porter, who represented those in opposition to the wind farm, wasted no time in stating his displeasure with county officials. The lawyer was given a one-hour time limit to question Horizon Wind Energy's project manager Bill Whitlock. In response Porter said, "I strongly object to a time limit on my cross-examination."

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Before the lawyers got started, Logan County highway engineer Brett Aukamp provided details of the road agreement that the Logan County Board accepted from the wind farm earlier this month. Would-be road improvements funded by the wind company are estimated at $950,000. The agreement states that $150,000 would be held in escrow at all times.

Porter made it a point to question why the board had already moved on this when zoning hadn't been approved for the project.

Aukamp informed Porter that the road project is separate from the zoning issue, and he was present as a courtesy to everyone to advise them on his findings.

As Whitlock sat for cross-examination from Porter, it was obvious the night would be a long, drawn-out one filled with verbal sparring.

Porter's questioning began with small points. Details quickly bogged down the proposal in dispute.


One of the issues Porter brought up was that Rail Splitter Wind Farm LLC is a "paper corporation." He pushed to make it understood that a limited liability corporation is formed to protect principals from any personal liability in the event that there is a financial problem.

Whitlock responded that LLCs are common in the business world.

Porter asked how Horizon could state that Rail Splitter Wind Farm is a $150 million corporation, when to date only Whitlock was employed, and no assets had been procured. He used this to say that the corporation, thus, could not provide financial guarantees for the project.

Whitlock stated that he did not agree with Porter's assessment.

As he progressed, Porter debated such things as the definition of a building.

He asked whether red or white lights would be placed on towers. Which, Whitlock said, was an FAA decision and not Horizon's.

The query conducted by Porter spent a great deal of time on a previous Horizon wind farm project just north of Logan County, called Town Groves. Porter asked Whitlock if, in fact, he did not have several complaints against that wind farm from area residents.


Whitlock disagreed, stating he was aware of perhaps two or three out of 250 families in the area.

Porter continued to list the complaints as "many complainants."

Whitlock continued to stress that it was two or three out of 250 area residents.

At several points Porter asked Whitlock if certain information would have ever been presented to the board if he (Porter) had not disclosed it.

Whitlock continually retorted that Porter did not discover anything and that, in fact, the information Porter was talking about was either in the Horizon report or in the supplemental report given to all board members.

Porter spent a great deal of time questioning the true value to the residents in Logan County of having a portion of the wind farm erected. He asked Whitlock what the $1,000-a-year rent to landowners would be in 30 years, the length of the agreement.


Whitlock answered, $1,000.

When Porter pushed that the dollar would not be worth as much in three decades, Whitlock said that was why the cost-of-living adjustment was part of the agreement.

Porter also disputed the figures on tax dollars that would be made by local governments, since the turbines would be on an accelerated depreciation schedule, thus making future tax dollars far less. Whitlock said he stood by the figures given to the board.

There was also a heated dispute about the true final positioning of the turbines. Porter stated that Horizon had the opportunity to move final sites "anywhere you damn well please."

Whitlock disagreed, stating that there could be some movement due to situations and that there may be a "shift" in some of the final positions.

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After more then two hours, Porter brought up the issue that might well be the crux of the complaint. He asked Whitlock if Horizon would enter into an agreement guaranteeing property values to all within the footprint of the wind turbines.

Whitlock reiterated that they would not.

When time had expired, the zoning board told Porter to wrap up his examination. It was 10 minutes later when they again asked him to finish. Porter once again stated his displeasure to the board: "I am still not finished, yet for some reason there is some rush to judgment."

He also disagreed with the time frame for closing statements, as well as again dissenting to his cross-examination being considered over. "I have never heard of a closing statement being made in the middle of a procedure," he said. "How can you expect me to have a closing argument before all the evidence is in? You don't know your argument until the evidence is in."

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As Porter questioned the "scruples" of the zoning board, a voice in the crowd shouted out, presumably to zoning board members, "How much did your bank account grow?"

Horizon attorneys wanted it on the record that they had no problem with time limitations and were ready for closing remarks.

Before closing for the evening, board members decided to allow additional statements from the public.

One woman asked the board if she would be allowed to cross-examine Mr. Whitlock, but was advised she would not.

One couple, Ed and Nancy Knittel of Saybrook, wanted the crowd to know their experience living among wind turbines. Mrs. Knittel stated that if they knew now what they didn't know earlier, that they would have never built their home where they did. Calling the situation "devastating," she said that they can see wind turbines out windows on all sides of their home. "I don't want this to happen to others," she said.


Horizon attorneys asked the Knittels if they had been in discussions with Horizon on helping with landscaping costs to remedy their complaint. They said yes, but an agreement wasn't made. When asked for the record what the amount was for the landscaping they had submitted to Horizon, the Knittels said $386,000.

Another young lady, Rene Taylor of Ellsworth, testified that the turbines have been a disruptive force on her family and that final placements of the turbines and power generating station were not where Horizon had initially told them they would be.

Horizon attorneys then asked Taylor the value of her home, which she stated at $185,000. They asked for the amount of the lawsuit she had filed and she replied, $750,000.

Sandwiched between two parties that objected to the wind farm was Emden resident Brent Hellman. Hellman favorably said that he couldn't understand how anyone could expect property values to be guaranteed when so many factors are involved in appraisal. He recalled purchasing a farm many years ago that two years later, due to economic conditions, was worth only 40 percent of what he had paid for it.

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Hellman went on to say that the landscape of the area always changes. From cell towers to pipelines, the landscape changes and will probably continue to change.

As 10:30 p.m. approached, zoning board members admitted that there was no way to finish remarks from those who wished to speak, plus have closing arguments from the lawyers of both sides. The meeting was adjourned to July 1.


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