Supreme Court to hear latest argument in Champaign Co. wind farm fight

The wind farm in Van Wert County, Ohio Thursday, July 12, 2012. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

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The wind farm in Van Wert County, Ohio Thursday, July 12, 2012. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week over whether a state agency followed proper procedures when granting an extension for the first phase of the controversial Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County.

The case is the latest in several legal battles fought about the proposed wind farm. The project, which was approved in two phases, would install a total of about 100 turbines across Champaign County, if it moves forward.

The arguments scheduled for Wednesday will focus on the first phase of the project.

Opponents will argue that the state’s Ohio Power Siting Board didn’t follow proper procedures when granting an extension for construction of the project’s first phase. A certificate approved by the board to begin construction on the first phase was initially scheduled to expire in 2016. The board then unanimously granted an extension until March 2018.

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Attorneys for Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the project, couldn’t be reached for comment late last week. Court documents show UNU also argues the developers should have sought the extension through a process that would have allowed more time for testimony and public comment.

Members of Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the project, will argue the state should have required a more thorough process, including a staff investigation and a report before granting the extension, said Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing UNU.

Project developers and attorneys representing the siting board countered that the extension’s approval was appropriate. They have argued a more thorough process was unnecessary, in part because granting the extension doesn’t affect either the proposed wind farm itself or the project’s location.

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One reason an extension was needed is because the controversial project has been tied up in legal proceedings well after it was initially approved by the siting board, said Jason Dagger, project manager for Everpower, the firm in charge of the project.

“It’s a similar tactic that has been used through the course of the development of this project,” Dagger said. “You appeal it and take it to the highest court.”

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Residents opposed to the project have raised several concerns about the project, arguing among other issues it could harm property values and create nuisances related to noise and flickering shadows cast by the turbine’s spinning blades.

Van Kley denied opponents were simply trying to stall the project.

“Obviously our clients wouldn’t be spending all this time and money on litigation if they weren’t concerned about serious harm that the project will do to their health and their properties,” Van Kley said.

Proponents have argued it could provide economic benefits of about $55 million locally and power as many as 50,000 homes per year.

In addition to the fight over the extension, developers and opponents are also involved in a legal dispute over a federal permit granted to the wind farm, allowing it to kill a limited number of endangered Indiana bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued that permit in 2013 but opponents appealed.

That case is still pending, Dagger said Thursday.

Unmatched coverage

The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of the long-running fight over the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County, including stories digging into some neighbors’ concerns about the project and the possible economic benefits.

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