Compromise may be reached in lengthy Champaign County wind farm fight

A compromise might be coming in the long-running legal fight over a proposed wind farm in Champaign County.

Documents filed with the Ohio Supreme Court show attorneys representing the Buckeye Wind Farm and members of Union Members United, a group opposed to the wind farm, have asked the justices to delay proceeding and give them time to negotiate a settlement.

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Jack Van Kley, a Columbus attorney representing UNU, said progress has been made but he declined to go into further detail about what specific issues are being debated and how any final agreement might play out.

“We are involved in discussions with Everpower and we are hopeful the discussions will have results that are good for the community,” Van Kley said.

Officials representing Everpower Renewables, the project’s developer, didn’t return Tuesday a call from the Springfield News-Sun seeking comment.

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“Appellants and intervening appellee have previously engaged in discussions regarding a resolution of their disputes, and have recently made significant progress,” court documents say. “Certain issues, however, will require additional time to address and resolve. To that end, appellants and intervening appellee believe that a stay of this proceeding will be helpful in reaching a final settlement of the disputes.”

The court hasn’t ruled on whether to approve the request for a stay. Court documents also show both sides in the dispute told the court they would be willing to go through a mediation process. If the stay is approved, both sides would provide an update on negotiations to the court within 60 days, according to court documents.

The project, which was approved in two phases, includes installing a total of about 100 turbines across rural Champaign County. While the project’s developer has argued the wind farm would bring new revenue to the county, residents have raised concerns about the project’s safety and how close turbines would be sited to homes.

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In February, both sides debated the case before the Ohio Supreme Court, the latest in a series of legal fights that has stretched on since at least 2009.

Attorneys argued in February 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.

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

The sides are also involved in a legal case over how the wind farm would affect the endangered Indiana bat, although Van Kley said that case is also nearing its conclusion.

RELATED: Wind project received wildlife permit

Developers had to acquire a permit that sets conditions to protect the Indiana bat, an endangered species found in about 25 counties in Ohio.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued that permit in 2013 but opponents appealed. In August last year, a U.S. Appeals courtruled that the federal agency used the correct standard to show Everpower minimized the impact on the endangered bat, but failed to consider other alternatives that would have led to fewer bats killed.

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of a proposed wind farm in Champaign County, including coverage of how the taxes might impact area residents, extensive reportinig on the legal disputes between developers and residents, and statewide debates over the future of renewable energy.

By the numbers

50,000: Homes per year the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County could power

54: Turbines in the first phase of the proposed Buckeye Wind Farm

56: Turbines in the second phase of the proposed Buckeye Wind Farm

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