Public Experts Testify on Proposed Wind Farm, Three Key Issues Raised

 Invenergy executives listen to public testimony at a hearing Tuesday evening at the Government Center. (Image credit: Breanna Grow for AdaptBN)

Invenergy executives listen to public testimony at a hearing Tuesday evening at the Government Center. (Image credit: Breanna Grow for AdaptBN)

After three nights of testimony from Invenergy, it was the public’s turn to share their thoughts on the company’s proposed wind farm in rural McLean County.

Invenergy wrapped up testimony before the McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday evening, opening the floor to expert members of the public for testimony and comment.

The testimony has covered three key issues to date, with another night of testimony planned for Wednesday, January 10.

Rural School Funding

John Capasso worked as a superintendent in rural school districts for 23 years, including 15 years at Prairie Central School District in Fairbury.

One thing Capasso has learned about rural schools: “they need funding now more than ever.” “They cannot make it on a tax base that is principally farms and residential--they need industry.”

Capasso recommended the board “seriously consider” approving Invenergy’s proposal in order to give local school districts much-needed funding.

According to Capasso’s calculations, the Prairie Central School District would see a net gain of $646,200 in tax revenues over a 4-year period from the proposed 32 turbines within its boundaries. “I call that a good start,” he said. “This is a rare financial opportunity, not just for schools but for all taxing bodies.”

With the district’s annual budget around $20M, that would equal a less than 1% increase in funds over 4 years.

Testifying on behalf of Invenergy before the board on Thursday January 4, Illinois State University Professor of Economics David Loomis projected the entire project would pay a net $6.9M in property taxes to the County over a 30-year period.

Environmental Concerns Over Creeks and Streams

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources made a series of recommendations to the board concerning the planned wind farm.

One recommendation included the prohibition of turbines within one half-mile from Henline Creek and other perennial streams (bodies of water flowing year-round).

In a letter to the board dated January 4, Invenergy said it would not follow this recommendation because several perennial streams in the project area were already heavily modified as a result of agricultural activity in the region. The letter described the streams as being unlikely to support fish or mussels.

Angelo Capparella, Associate Professor of Vertebrate Zoology at Illinois State University and  Volunteer Chair of the John Wesley Powell Audubon Society, testified on two such streams, Brain Creek and Frog Alley, saying surveys conducted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and The Nature Conservancy found the creeks had “surprisingly high numbers of species.”

Another recommendation would require turbines be set one half-mile from the Mackinaw River. Andrea Giampoli, Invenergy’s environmental and wildlife permitting manager, testified Thursday that the company would comply “if the board makes that recommendation.”

Giampoli said Invenergy conducted several surveys to minimize potential environmental impacts, consulting with the IDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service throughout the project’s development.

“So what you have to decide is: what is credible evidence for the points where Invenergy claims that they don’t need to follow IDNR recommendations,” he told the board.

Potential for Safety Issues at Thacker Airport

Bill Thacker owns Thacker Airport, a residential airport two miles southwest of Chenoa. It’s one of the oldest airports in McLean County, originally established in 1947 as a public airport. Thacker bought the property to save it from closing permanently, preserving it for flight instruction.

Thacker testified that, because his airport is privately owned, it didn’t come under Invenergy’s radar during its impacts study, which means Invenergy didn’t consider federal aviation guidelines in marking two potential turbines near the airfield.

Thacker said the proposed turbines lie within 1,000 feet of the runway, violating federal statutes. “Obstacles that close to the runway would be a degradation to flight safety,” he told the board.

The turbine sites also lie within one half-mile of the airport’s regular flight pattern, which runs parallel to the runway.

“You would have to look through the turbine to see the runway,” Thacker explained. “Turbines that close to the runway will be an issue at Thacker Airport, especially for student pilots.”

Thacker recommended that the board require Invenergy to comply with federal statutes and set the proposed turbines 3,500 feet from the runway (2,500 feet from regular flight patterns).

What’s Next?

A list of speakers remained uncalled when Tuesday’s meeting adjourned at 10 p.m. The board will hear at least one more night of open public comment before coming to a vote. This will give members of the general public an opportunity to share thoughts and concerns.

The next hearing will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 10, 2018, at the Government Center, Room 400.