Supreme Court considers controversial Champaign County wind farm today

The controversial Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County appeared before the Ohio Supreme Court again Wednesday, the latest in a series of legal fights over the project.

Attorneys argued Wednesday over whether the state was right to approve an extension for the first phase of the wind farm and whether opponents have been using the courts as a way to stall construction.

READ MORE: Townships join county concerns in wind project

Much of the case focused on whether the Ohio Power Siting Board followed the correct process to approve the extension, which would allow the wind farm’s developers to build both phases of the project at the same time.

The project, which was approved in two phases, includes installing a total of about 100 turbines across rural Champaign County if it moves forward. The siting board approved a certificate to build the first phase of the project in 2010, but the project’s developers sought a three-year extension as the deadline to begin construction was set to expire in 2015. The first phase includes more than 50 turbines.

Members of Union Neighbors United, a group of residents who oppose the project, appealed the state’s decision granting the extension, arguing the board should have required a more lengthy process with an investigation and staff report.

RELATED: Developers: Long-delayed wind farm still in the works

Attorneys for UNU also argued there have been changes over the past several years, and an investigation and staff report would have brought to light concerns that weren’t addressed when the project was first approved.

“We need to make sure the conditions of the permit, which are now seven years old, are still valid and protective,” said Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing UNU.

As an example, he cited safety setbacks included in the project’s second phase that were designed to protect drivers from ice that could potentially be thrown by the turbine blades. That condition wasn’t included in the first phase, he said.

The project’s developers argued UNU’s appeal is just the latest example of a tactic designed to hold the project up indefinitely in the court system to prevent construction.

The wind farm has been stalled in the courts for years, even though the first certificate was approved in 2010, said Michael Settineri, an attorney representing the Everpower Renewables, the company developing the wind farm. Every time the project has moved forward, they argued, opponents have appealed to the courts.

DETAILS: Everpower signs deal with Amazon for Ohio wind farm

“The goal appears to be to litigate this project out of existence,” Settineri said.

But in his rebuttal, Van Kley argued Everpower’s decision to split the project in two phases forced opponents to fight legal battles that likely would have been unnecessary otherwise.

“Our clients aren’t in the business of spending their money wastefully,” Van Kley said.

Attorneys representing the siting board also weighed in on the debate. Werner Margard, an attorney representing the OPSB, argued extending the certificate for the first phase doesn’t affect the actual facility and not all proposed changes require a new staff investigation.

Margard argued the courts traditionally defer to agencies like the siting board when interpreting statutes.

The justices questioned attorneys on both sides, including asking Van Kley whether it may actually be better for residents if the two phases are built at the same time.

“It seems to me like you may win the battle and lose the war,” Justice Terrence O’Donnell said.

The wind farm has caused years of controversy in Champaign County, where many residents have argued the project was planned too close to nearby homes. Opponents have argued the project could hurt property values and create nuisances for neighbors.

Advocates argue it will bring new revenue into the community and provide enough energy to the electric grid to power as many as 50,000 homes per year.

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