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City, wind company may battle over construction sites

Two of the biggest Champaign County projects in years could collide.

A potential clash could be brewing between two Champaign County developments that together have promised to bring nearly 50 new permanent jobs and millions of dollars into the economy.

Urbana’s prosecutor has raised concerns about a proposed construction staging area near Three Mile Road and U.S. 36. for turbines by the Buckeye Wind Project. The city recently reached an agreement with Robert Rothschild Farm that would extend a sewer line to that area as part of a proposed expansion at Rothschild.

“From the city’s perspective, Everpower’s desire to move a construction staging area … is unacceptable if it poses any risk of interference with the construction of the sewer line or damage to the finished sewer line … due to equipment and trucks repeatedly transporting turbine components and other heavy materials over it,” said Gil Weithman, law director for Urbana.

Representatives from Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project, said city officials have never brought the issue to their attention, which city officials contest. Developers for the wind project also argued the staging area will have no impact on the city’s plans to expand the sewer line.

The expansion at Rothschild Farm could create as many as 25 new jobs. The extension of the sewer line would represent about a $787,000 investment between the city, county and Rothschild Farm. Jim Gordon, CEO of the company, has previously said Robert Rothschild Farm is a $27 million a year business, but could grow to a $40 million to $45 million a year business in a few years.

Each phase of the wind project is expected to create as many as 80 temporary jobs during construction and about 10 permanent full-time jobs. The second phase alone could contribute as much as $1.26 million in annual taxes to the local economy each year. The first phase of the project has already been approved by the state, and a decision on whether to approve a second phase is expected later this year.

Developers for the Buckeye II Wind Project filed a motion with the Ohio Power Siting Board in February that indicates they plan to amend their certificate for the first phase of the project. Combined, the two projects would install more than 100 turbines across six townships in Champaign County.

Because the two projects would be sited in the same general area, the wind company’s motion indicates it will eventually seek to shift a large portion of its collection line system and three construction staging areas to the same locations that will be used for the Buckeye II project. The motion to amend the certificate has not yet been filed, said Jason Dagger, a spokesman for the Buckeye project.

Until that motion is filed, Weithman said the city will not take any action. But the city could contest the state’s decision if the certificate is allowed to be amended.Weithman also complained that the wind company has never notified the city of its plans.

The construction staging areas would be used for delivering and temporarily storing wind turbine components during construction, which could include cabling, Dagger said. The purpose of moving the staging areas is to keep the project’s impact on county and township roads to a minimum during construction. Dagger argued there would be no impact to the city’s project, in part because the site would be on the opposite side of the road from Rothschild Farm.

The staging areas would also be temporary, and would be on private property Dagger said, adding that the city has not notified Buckeye about its concerns. Dagger also said the wind company will work with the city and county to make sure the staging area has no negative impact on the Rothschild Farm project.

“The laydown yards are very temporary in nature,” Dagger said.

But Weithman said the wind company knew about the city’s plans for the sewer line long before it filed a motion for waivers last month.

“Mayor (Bill) Bean spoke about the planned sewer line extension to Rothschilds during his testimony at the Power Siting Board hearing in November last year,” Weithman said. “The city has repeatedly expressed its concern about placement of wind turbines in the projected growth corridor east of Urbana since 2009.”

Once the motion to change the staging areas is filed, state staff members will review the request and make a recommendation to the administrative law judge, who will make the final decision, said Matt Butler, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The city would have the right to file its own arguments regarding the decision as well.

“Once the application is received and reviewed, the administrative law judge will rule on the motion, and things would move on from there,” Butler said.

Gordon, CEO of Rothschild Farm, said he was unaware of the specifics of any disagreement between the wind company and the city. But he said his company has worked at length with the city to help make the expansion possible.

“I certainly hope that a wind turbine project would not prevent the creation of jobs in Champaign County,” Gordon said. “That, I think, would be a travesty.”

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