Logan County ZBA hears request for Apex/Sugar Creek electrical transmission project

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[November 04, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Thursday, November 3, 2016, the Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing and voted on whether to approve Apex/Sugar Creek Wind Farm's conditional use applications for underground collection lines and transmission lines, and a substation plus a variance for work done in areas that are zoned as special districts.

Around 30 people came to hear about the applications and plans for where the lines will be located.

Guests representing the wind farm project were Stan Komperda and from the American Wind Energy Management Corporation, Scott Koziar and Dave Wagner from Apex Clean Energy, and Kyle Barry, an attorney for the project.

The first application was to allow the construction and operation of an underground electrical transmission collection line that will connect to the previously approved wind farm project.

The second application was to allow the construction and operation of an overhead 138 killovolt electrical transmission line, and accompanying electrical project substation, that will connect the wind farm project to Ameren's Fogarty Switchyard in (or over) Agricultural, manufacturing 3, planned urban development, and special district zoning districts.

ZBA chairman Doug Thompson said with some new areas added in that are not in agricultural districts, variances are needed.

Explanation of applications

Barry said the "Gen tie" line, or transmission line, is the cord necessary to plug the project into the electrical grid that will tie in near old Route 66 at the Ameren Fogarty Switchyard.
Barry said there are about eighteen parcels the transmission line will cross, and some are zoned special district. He said they are "seeking a conditional use permit for the parcels in agricultural zones and a variance for the parcels not zoned agriculturally because of the hardship they impose on the applicant."

Barry said the underground collection lines will host buried electrical cables which will tie one part of the line to another. This line adds seven new parcels to the project footprint, all of which are zoned agricultural. These parcels are just south of the existing footprint.

Komperda said the project will still cover 11,500 acres. He said the transmission lines will cover a six mile route tying into Sugar Creek Substation, which will be located just south of 1400th street near Rocky Ford and be between one half and one acre. That substation will have transformer lines with 138,000 volts, which is the same voltage Ameren uses.

Barry said the substation is included in the conditional use portion of the transmission line application.

Komperda said the lines will cross at the intersection of 1400th street and 700th avenue, which is a "busy location" and follow along a tree line. It will hop across I-55 going south near old route 66.

Komperda said there are no changes to the previous ordinance conditions. He said, "we are staying at least 25 feet away from neighboring property lines due to sway." Komperda said the poles will be 60 feet high with three wires on each pole. The FAA rules say they must be under 200 feet, so that condition is being met.

Komperda said they have looked at floodplain regulations as they planned the locations. They will repair drainage tiles as needed.

Komperda said they have also done interference studies He said it is not likely to impact electromagnetic transmissions or affect telecommunications or digital transmissions.

Barry said they are following the requirements for a conditional use permit for the parcels zoned agriculturally. He said for parcels with more than one zoning classifications or not zoned agriculturally, they are asking for a variance.

Barry said section 11.33 of the zoning ordinance states a variance is needed if the use of land "imposes" some "practical difficulties or particular hardship" on the applicant. He said the request meets standards for a variance because existing rules impose a hardship on the project that has not been created by the applicant or the owner. Any electrical transmission lines connecting to the switchyard will pass through special districts.

Komperda then showed photos of lines previously put up by Ameren in areas near where transmission lines will go. He said they are working on getting crossing permits from the Illinois Department of Transportations, Union Pacific Railroad, and CILCO/Ameren for some of the parcels.

Barry said each of those agencies require a separate permit. He said use of the Gen Tie lines is consistent with existing uses of the parcels now.

Komperda said the underground connection line they plan to construct is no different from other underground cable spans within the project footprint already permitted. This line will go from 450th Avenue heading east, then north to 1400th street. The line will be 1.3 miles long and cross seven parcels owned by the same family. He said they have already talked to the family.

Komperda said studies show no FCC impacts on microwave beam paths, television or radio signals, and cell transmission. They will mitigate any problems if necessary.

Komperda said they will draft agreements with counties and townships where some of the lines will cross.

Barry then summed up the applications and requests and asked them to allow them to plug in the project to existing utilities. He said the Regional Planning Commission unanimously approved the applications last night and asked the ZBA to approve them.

Questions from ZBA members

Members of the ZBA next had a few questions for the wind farm representatives.

Brett Farmer asked if all the poles would be 60 feet high.

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Komperda said the poles are generally 60 feet high and would be no higher than 80 feet.

ZBA member Derek Martin asked if they are steel poles.

Komperda said steel poles will be used.

ZBA Chairman Doug Thompson asked Zoning Officer Will D'Andrea about the area zoned for planned urban development.

D'Andrea said it was zoned years ago and would allow someone to plan a development.

Komperda said they are talking to a landowner about permission to span a parcel. Transmission lines already cross it.

Public comments

Thompson asked for public comments and several people addressed concerns.

Doug Muck, who owns land covered in the project, said he has talked at length with APEX and provided input into where they would be placing lines. He asked about the digital cell and TV signals.

Komperda said digital signals are less susceptible to interference than analog and any interference is negligible. He said farmers told him they have little issue with signals.

Steve Goodman, who lives near one of the parcels, asked about how they plan on accessing floodplain areas when there has been flooding.

Komperda said they use all terrain vehicles, though work may need to be delayed when it is flooded. He said engineers have dealt with the floodplains before and existing lines handle it.

Komperda said construction plans include soil testing which will show engineers areas to avoid. He said they will have discussions with landowners and make sure criteria are met.

Nick Hurley had questions about a line adjacent to his parcel. He wants it moved to the east due to the possibility of damaging a tree line.

Komperda said there is an agricultural field and field line running back there with good access. He said there would be a 25 foot setback from the boundary of Hurley's property. Komperda said it would not damage the tree line.

Elton Hurley said the tree is large and feels it should be further away. He asked whether the lines would be insulated and could be moved over.

Komperda said the lines are insulated. He said he would talk to the landowners about moving the line, but they do not want it through their path.

Wagner said he could talk to the engineers about the concerns.

Steve Schreiner lives in the project footprint. Schreiner asked about the 25-foot-setback and whether it applies to special districts or those zoned M3. He wants to make sure the conditions are the same because he was told there is no required setback.
Komperda said it does apply to special districts and it is the setback they have set.

Kozair said the ordinance does not set the setback, but they would work with him.

ZBA votes to approve each application

Before voting, the ZBA briefly discussed and considered each application separately to make sure they met conditional use standards.

Chairman Thompson reviewed the standards with the other members. The conditional use ordinance says the conditional use will not be "substantially detrimental" to public health or general welfare, "substantially injurious" to other property, or "substantially impede" development of surrounding property. They also want to ensure "... adequate utilities, access roads, drainage or necessary facilities have been or will be provided, and measures "will be taken to provide ingress and egress so designed as to minimize traffic congestion in the public streets."

Collection and transmission lines

ZBA members then voted on each of the applications with Brett Farmer making a motion for approval of the collection lines and Cheryl Baker making a motion for approval of the transmission lines.

Both were unanimously approved by the six members present: Cheryl Baker, Judy Graff, Brett Farmer, Doug Thompson, Derek Martin and Scott Noltensmeier. Rick Sheley was absent.


For the variances, the ZBA had to ensure it would not alter the central character of the locality.

Cheryl Baker asked about some of the properties in the special district.

D'Andrea said the landowners have signed off to allow work to be done.

Scott Noltensmeier motioned for approval of the variances and they were also unanimously approved.

The matter will go before the Logan County Board next. The board meets in Workshop on Thursday, November 10 and votes in Regular session on Tuesday, November 15.

[Angela Reiners]

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