DeWitt County ZBA hearing 1

Phillip Luetkehans, right, an attorney for DeWitt County landowners, prepares to ask a question of Tom Swierczewski of Tradewind Energy during the first night of meetings, on Tuesday at Clinton High School, before the Zoning Board of Appeals on a special-use permit for a DeWitt County wind farm.

CLINTON — The push to place a $300 million wind farm in DeWitt County moved into a new phase Tuesday night before a crowd of about 200 people in the auditorium of Clinton High School.

It was the first of seven scheduled five-hour meetings before the DeWitt County Zoning Board of Appeals.

Tom Swierczewski, a development director with Tradewind Energy, told the seven-member panel the proposed Alta Farms II wind farm would bring several benefits to DeWitt County, including extra income for farmers hosting turbines on their property, new roads and extra property tax revenue.

DeWitt County ZBA hearing 2

Tradewind Energy attorney James Griffin reads an opening statement Tuesday at Clinton High School to begin the hearings on a special-use permit for a proposed DeWitt County wind farm.

On the first night of the company laying out its case, Swierczewski said the company hopes to break ground on the project in the late spring and be in operation by late 2020.

“This project meets all of the requirements for a special-use permit,” said James Griffin, a Tradewind Energy attorney.

The zoning board of appeals will consider making a recommendation to the DeWitt County Board on the company’s special-use permit application after the conclusion of testimony in the next several weeks.

The county board is expected to consider the special-use permit in March.

Following the conclusion of the company’s presentation, which could come at a second meeting Thursday night, the zoning board of appeals will hear from supporters and opponents of the project.

Meetings are scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week and then Feb. 19, 20, 21 and 22. All meetings are expected to start at 5 p.m. at the high school. More meetings will be scheduled, if necessary.

Swierczewski told the zoning board of appeals the project will be composed of about 67 individual wind turbines, each no taller than 591 feet in total tower height. The project would spread over about 12,202 acres in Barnett, Wapella and Clintonia townships.

Swierczewski said a panel of experts will testify to specifics of the special-use permit, but zoning board of appeals members had concerns Tuesday about language in the permit which would allow the turbines to be moved up to 250 feet from their specified locations.

“It looks like you are taking our codes and fitting them to your needs,” said board member Dave Waters.

“I am not saying that every one of our 67 turbines is going to shift 250 feet and many of them will not shift at all,” Swierczewski answered. “It is what we call micro-setting, which is small shifts after we do research to find out how the turbines interact with each other.

"We are making sure we have enough flexibility so that if a couple of turbines need shifting, 100 or 200 feet or so," he said. "Without that flexibility, the only other option we would have would be to remove the turbine and then that landowner doesn't receive the benefit of that turbine.”

Board Chairman Andy Hedrick also questioned Swierczewski about non-participating landowners who may suffer extra charges such as added charges for crop dusting around turbines.

“We have designed this project to minimize impacts such as that,” Swierczewski said. “We have fewer turbines, and they are more spaced out. I have talked with crop dusters and have heard rumors that some landowners are getting charged more, but I have not been able to verify if that is actually the case. The way this project is laid out, that shouldn't be a concern.”

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Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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Agriculture Reporter

Agriculture reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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