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Woodford County yet to reach road agreement with wind farms

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EUREKA - Woodford County is on the verge of losing $566,000 in wind farm building permit fees next year because of the failure to negotiate road agreements with Gamesa/Navitas.

The Zoning Board of Appeals earlier approved special use permits for the Minonk and Roanoke wind farms, and they will come before the County Board when road agreements with the county and townships involved are completed.

Paul Lewis, attorney for Gamesa/Navitas, told the County Board Tuesday that no one questioned the wind farm decommissioning plan during the ZBA hearings. He said he is puzzled about the county's stance after a recent Road and Bridge Committee.

County Engineer Dennis Bachman told Lewis in an e-mail that "I believe the committee wants to discuss the agreement and the decommissioning plan with the state's attorney.

"I also believe we want to discuss the PILOT (Payment in lieu of Taxes) agreement, possible administrative support and possible energy support for the county."

Bachman referred questions to State's Attorney Michael Stroh, who is out of the office the remainder of this week.

Contacted by phone, Stroh said it is unlikely the county will have an agreement by Monday night's special board meeting and commented that the townships have not finalized an agreement either.

A Finance Committee of the whole had been scheduled for Monday, but Larry Whitaker and four other board members requested that it be considered a special board meeting in case the agreements were finalized this week and could be approved. The motion was approved and resolutions are being prepared for the agenda.

Because of delays, Lewis said there is a 50-50 chance or less that the company could apply for building permits in 2010 and begin construction.

"It drops as the days go on," he said.

After the building permits are received, the company must secure construction contracts, an interconnection agreement with Commonwealth-Edison Co., and market power contracts to prospective buyers.

Minonk LLC includes 75 of its 100 towers in Woodford County, which would require about $366,600 in building permit fees. Roanoke Wind LLC has 50 turbines, which would cost about $200,000 for building permits.

Along with township roads, there are 8.5 miles of county roads affected in the Minonk project. Lewis said that Minonk Township has joined with Nebraska and Waldo townships in Livingston County in negotiating road agreements.

The townships are seeking an additional $5 million over the life of the agreement with no accounting of what it will be spent for, Lewis said.

"The only issue out there is how much side money we're going to pay them," he said. The wind farm company also is paying attorney's fees for Robert Lenz, who represents the township.

The special use hearings for Livingston County are set for Nov. 23 and 24.

In a related action, Clayton Township Trustee Rich Burmood of Benson read a letter to the board from Sheryl Kuzma, attorney representing the township in negotiations with Gamesa/Navitas.

She was responding to a representative of the Roanoke wind farm telling members of the Finance Committee that pressure needed to be put on the township because of delays in getting a road agreement.

Her letter outlined communications between the township and the wind farm.

"Any suggestion that the township has been dragging its feet or delaying a road agreement is blatantly false and misleading," Burmood read.

In other business, Thomas Karr challenged a per diem claim dating back to the end of 2007 totaling $5,325.

"I feel that our books are closed on 2007 and 2008," Karr said.

Jim Fyke said he received an opinion from Stroh that there was no time limit on when per diem claims had to be submitted.

Whitaker "fessed up" that the claim was his, explaining that since an earlier motion of his for the board to forgo per diems to save money was "soundly defeated," he decided to turn in claims he hadn't submitted.

Doug Huser said he just turned in his first per diem and challenged that he would tear his up if Whitaker would.

"You and me can go to sleep tonight knowing that we balanced the budget," Huser said.

Stan Glazier commented, "Even for Larry to do this ploy, this is incredible."

A motion to deny the claim was defeated because it apparently would be illegal.

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