CLINTON — A $300 million wind farm will not be coming to DeWitt County.
The DeWitt County Board voted 6-5 with one abstention Thursday night against a special-use permit from Tradewind Energy. The vote was taken after a two-hour meeting before a crowd of about 300 people at Clinton High School.
“We're elated,” said Andrea Rhoades, one of several residents living within the footprint of the project who opposed the wind farm. “We are so happy with this decision after two years of work."
Lenexa, Kan.-based Tradewind Energy proposed Alta Farms II, which would have placed 67 wind turbines, some possibly up to 591 feet tall, on sites across 12,202 acres in Barnett, Wapella and Clintonia townships.
"The County Board listened to their constituents and they listened to the Regional Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals and did their jobs," Rhoades added. "They listened to the evidence presented and agreed that it did not meet the criteria for a special-use permit. This was a 30-year decision they were making and they made the right one.”
Tradewind Energy officials declined to comment following the vote, but they sent a statement to The Pantagraph later Thursday evening.
"Although we did not get the outcome our supporters and participating landowners wished to see, we would like to thank them for all of their hard work in developing this project," said Tom Swierczewski, a project developer for Tradewind Energy. "We continue to believe that the Alta Farms Wind Farm is a unique opportunity for DeWitt County to increase funding for their schools, put money into the tax base to have better infrastructure, create good-paying jobs, and lower taxes.
"At this point we plan to reassess the situation and our options moving forward."
While Tradewind Energy promoted what it said were the economic benefits of the project, resident and wind farm opponent Dale Naffziger said that shouldn't be a factor in the decision.
“If you follow the rules of the special-use permit, you can't vote yes,” he told the board. “The monetary portion of this wasn't about the special use and really shouldn't be considered. But nobody can claim the wind farm wouldn't harm the value of my property.”
Prior to the vote, Jane Ann Thomas was one of two DeWitt County residents who asked the board to approve the wind farm. Thomas said she did not have an agreement with Tradewind Energy, but felt it would help the county.
"I am a supporter of renewable energy, namely wind energy," she said. "I have a passion for wind energy and DeWitt County. I know a great deal of time has been spent on this, and I hope you have thought long and hard about financial aid and how these financial benefits and jobs can help our county.
"This will lead to improvements to our schools, which we must maintain," she said. "Those children we educate our future and we want to keep the burden off of our taxpayers."
Board member Terry Ferguson said he had concerns about the issues with weather forecasting after hearing testimony from 31-year DeWitt County resident Don Waddell, who holds a bachelor's degree in physics and is a member of the American Meteorological Society. Waddell said his research showed turbines could disrupt indicators of severe weather for Doppler radar based at the National Weather Service facility in Lincoln.
“This wind farm will blind the Lincoln radar from certain severe weather events, and our citizens will have less time to prepare for something like a tornado,” he said. "It happened with a tornado last year near Maroa."
Regarding Waddell's concerns, Ferguson said, "I have asked Tradewind Energy about this and they said it would be OK, but they really didn't deny those issues as fact.”
Board members also had concerns about the permit being completed accurate. DeWitt County Zoning Administrator Angie Sarver told the board some information was missing from the application. Signatures of owners of five parcels involved in the project still have not been filed, she said.
Betsy Shifflet, who also owns property near the proposed farm, said she was nervous, knowing the vote was going to be close.
“I am proud of everybody who have worked countless hours to fight this,” she said. “We have helped with research and getting the word out about this project, and we are just glad that it's over.”