Wind farm plan draws protest from Newcomb Township

Wind farm plan draws protest from Newcomb Township

MAHOMET – Newcomb Township commissioners voted Tuesday to protest a proposed ordinance that would bring wind farms to Champaign County.

In the 4-1 vote, commissioners noted concerns about wind turbines near the extensive Manlove Gas Storage Field in northern Champaign County.

Herb Schildt, chairman of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission and the most vocal opponent of proposed wind farms, also said he was concerned that the Zoning Board of Appeals had removed a map amendment that could facilitate neighbors in protesting zoning changes.

Schildt read a letter from Cornbelt Fire Protection District Chief John Jay arguing that the proposed turbines could be too tall to reach if fire broke out.

The county's wind farm ordinance will be heard again by the Environment and Land Use Committee before it goes to the full board.

Champaign County Board Chairman C. Pius Weibel said a single protesting township causes the board to require a super majority, 21 of 27, for the ordinance to pass. He guessed fewer than six board members might be opposed to wind farms.

Al Kurtz, the vice chair of the Environment and Land Use panel, urged the Newcomb office not to protest the wind farm.

He said wind farm would create jobs, provide revenue for landowners and support the Fisher and Mahomet school districts through taxes. He argued that the 122-page ordinance is far more restrictive than other counties', such as Kankakee County's eight-page ordinance.

But others said the turbines would create visual pollution.

Timothy Polz, senior project manager of Midwest Wind Energy in Chicago, said his company was interested in Newcomb Township and wants the support of its citizenry, adding, "We're never successful without the support of the community."

He said the company, which has farms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska, has dealt with high-pressure gas pipeline issues safely in the past.

Steve Burdin of Mahomet said the Open Meetings Act had been violated by Newcomb Township. The township's planning commission voted unanimously for the protest at 8:30 p.m. Monday, less than 24 hours before Tuesday's vote.

"Even if the public could be informed immediately, it is far less than the 48 hours required by the Open Meetings Act," he said. "How can the public comment on something intelligently with only 24 hours notice, let alone if they haven't heard about it at all?"

At several points, residents asked the commissioners to speak up in the contentious meeting.

Newcomb Township commissioners said they were racing against a deadline of their own, the 30-day notice period after the Zoning Board of Appeals met March 26.