Urbana plans challenge to wind farm change

Champaign County’s largest two economic development projects colliding in one area.

Developers for the Buckeye Wind Farm asked to move three temporary construction yards while the project is built, setting up a potential clash with the city of Urbana and another business expansion project.

The amendment filed by Buckeye this week asks the state to allow changes to its wind farm permit, including moving the site of three construction staging areas and relocating about six miles of power lines onto leased private property.

But city officials in Urbana are concerned that one of the proposed construction sites — at Three Mile Road and U.S. 36 — would hurt a plan to extend a sewer line to nearby Robert Rothschild Farm, which needs the sewer to expand and add at least 25 new jobs.

“I believe we will try to intervene, if that’s the case,” said Gil Weithman, law director for Urbana.

Combined, the wind farm and the expansion at Rothschild Farm have promised to bring dozens of jobs and millions of dollars into the local economy.

The city recently reached an agreement with Rothschild to extend a sewer line to the company, which in turn has promised to expand and add as many as 25 full-time jobs. The sewer line represents about a $787,000 investment between the city, county and Rothschild.

Rothschild is a $27 million a year business, according to its owner, but it is growing and could become a $40 million to $45 million business within a few years.

The construction site at U.S. 36 and Three Mile Road, which would be used for delivering and storing turbine components, is near where the sewer line would be extended.

Each of the two phases of the wind farm is expected to create as many as 80 temporary jobs during construction and about 10 permanent, full-time jobs. Both phases are planned for the same general area, although the state hasn’t yet approved the second phase. About 100 turbines are planned for Champaign County.

The second phase of the project alone could generate as much as $1.26 million in annual taxes for the local economy, according to Buckeye.

Jason Dagger, a spokesman for Buckeye, said the wind company has had conversations with the city, as well as Rothschild Farm. The proposed construction site is across the road from the proposed sewer line, would only be temporary, Dagger said, and Buckeye will make sure it doesn’t affect the sewer line expansion.

Buckeye wants to move the staging site to minimize the effect on local roads during construction, Dagger said, and it worked closely with the Champaign County Engineer’s Office.

While he said the wind company has contacted the city once, Weithman said, they haven’t spoken to city administrators.

“They always come to us way late in the whole game,” Weithman said.

Officials at Robert Rothschild Farm didn’t return a call seeking comment this week. Jim Gordon, CEO of Rothschild Farm, has previously said he was unaware of the specifics of any legal dispute between the city and wind farm, but said it would be a “travesty” if the wind project prevented the sewer extension from moving forward.

Any local government has the right to intervene if they have concerns with Buckeye’s request, said Matt Butler, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. State staff members are reviewing the application and an administrative law judge will make a ruling, Butler said.

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