A state decision on whether to move ahead with a controversial wind project may only be weeks away, leaving local officials and residents to prepare for the project if it moves forward.
The Ohio Power Siting Board — which will eventually decide whether the second phase of the Buckeye Wind project can move forward — will not make a decision when it meets in March, according to Matt Butler, a spokesman for the agency. The board is also scheduled to meet in April.
Officials from Everpower, the company in charge of the project, have said a decision could come as early as this spring.
The OPSB can either approve the project as submitted, require changes to the proposal or reject the project entirely. Those in favor of the wind farm said it will bring needed revenue and jobs to the region, and will have few negative affects on residents. But opponents have said the project is too close to homes, and some have even threatened to move out of the county if the project is approved.
“The bottom line is it’s too close to homes in this county,” said Amy Blanton, of Mechanicsburg.
Blanton said the turbines must be sited at least 914 feet from residential structures. While she lives in Mechanicsburg, Blanton said she had been planning for several years to build a home on a property about a mile north of Mutual, where several of the turbines are now sited. Because of the setbacks, she said it will make it impossible to build a new home on her property.
“We hear a lot about property values, but it’s also a property rights issue,” Blanton said.
Proponents of the project have also pointed to property rights throughout the debate to say they should be allowed to host the turbines on their own land.
Champaign County employees are working with wind company officials on a proposal that would use 14 miles of county and township roads during the construction of two phases of the project.
The Champaign County Engineer’s Office is researching the proposal, but cannot move forward until members of the OPSB decide whether to approve a second phase of the project that includes about 55 turbines.
The first phase of the Buckeye Wind project has already been approved, and with the second phase, would install about a total of about 100 turbines in the county. But the proposal cannot move forward until a final decision is made, said Stephen McCall, Champaign County engineer. Overall, there are about 239 miles of county roads in Champaign County.
“I’m kind of on hold really waiting for phase two and the siting board, because their decision could affect the plan,” McCall said.
The construction plan is separate from a road use agreement, which would include formal negotiations with developers laying out existing road conditions, how they could be used, as well as under what conditions and how quickly they would have to be repaired.
In the meantime, McCall said his office is researching previous road use agreements that have been negotiated in Hardin and Van Wert counties. Under the proposal from Buckeye Wind, the developer would transport turbine equipment for about 10 miles of road for the first phase of the project and four miles for the second phase. Both phases of the project are located in a similar footprint.
“Once we find out whether phase two is approved, we will go through the review,” McCall said.
Jason Dagger, project developer for Buckeye Wind, said the company tried to use state routes under its proposal as much as possible.
“We’re using a very small portion of county and township roads, about 14 miles,” Dagger said.
Other area agencies are also making preparations in case the project is approved. Mark Keller, chief of the Urbana Fire Division, visited a wind farm in Pennsylvania earlier this year to train how to fight a fire at one of the turbines.
The most likely scenario would be to have a fire engine available and a brush truck on site. Firefighters would likely block the area near the fire and use the brush truck to control any debris that might fall from the tower.
“For the most part it’s going to burn itself out,” Keller said of the turbine.
That scenario is separate from a high-angle rescue, in which someone might be injured at the top of the turbine. The fire division does not have the equipment or training necessary to handle those situations, Keller said, and he is still negotiating with Buckeye for equipment.
In most scenarios, Keller said, employees who would work at the site are able to use a rope system to get themselves to the ground safely. Keller said additional training for firefighters is still necessary in case of a serious injury.
If the project is approved this spring, opponents can appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.
But Dagger said if it is approved, he is optimistic the project could be under construction by the end of this year.