Great Lakes Wind Farm Journey

Sue Sliwinski took a 9 day, 3000 mile trip visiting 7 wind farms across several states. Here's her report.

On September 18th, 2005, Sandra Swanson and I set out on a journey to visit all the wind 'farms' in the Great Lakes region. After traveling over 3000 miles, we had acquainted ourselves with the towns and neighbors of 6 completed projects, and found one site under (opposed) construction. Every one was unique, all had problems, and all were controversial.

We took many still shots, reams of video, copious notes, and conducted numerous interviews. What's happening to these people and to their otherwise natural surroundings is a crime. Impacts that are regularly denied by wind developers were confirmed to be fact again and again in wind farm after wind farm. Lovely rural communities are being turned into industrial freak shows. In some places people have just accepted their fate and they live with it, not understanding how empowered they could be if they just got noisy enough about the problems. Julie Thiry told us she's learned how to go outside in her garden, and block everything from her mind so as not to be disturbed and frustrated. She said once, on a quiet day (because the turbines weren't moving) she heard what sounded like gunshots. She had been blocking everything like she taught herself to do and suddenly realized the 'gunshot' noises were coming from the nearest turbine, probably contracting as the sun went down, as you can often hear them do at Wethersfield, NY. Julie and her husband Bart tried to sell their home for over two years, but gave up when they were told they'd have to drop the price well below its appraised value. Their family's plight is highlighted in a TIME magazine article that came out just this October.

Scott Srnka from Lincoln Township, Wisconsin is enduring such awful conditions it's hard to believe they're true. Even I have steered clear from his information in the past for fear of being accused of using scare-tactics. But a visit to his farm reveals the guy is rock-solid, and when you meet him and his beautiful family you come away shocked and saddened. Neighbors who have known Scott all his life say he's an honorable man and that his troubles are's the one's of us who hear long-distance that doubt the truthfulness about the decline of his dairy herd and his family's health problems due to severe stray voltage that did not exist before the wind turbines were erected across the road.

Apparently, farmers often experience some levels of stray voltage. But the extenuating circumstances on Scott's farm include a combination of surface rock, no substation for the turbines, and the nearness of the massive machines. He and one other dairy farm are being severely impacted, but the other one, right next door, won't admit it because they own the leases on 14 turbines and don't want to jeopardize that easy money.

Scott is a young man and his farm is meticulously kept. It was his father's and grandfather's before him and after hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses to try and remedy the problems caused by the huge turbines, he's calling it quits and may be moved out by spring. His wife is pregnant with their third child, and though they've gone through every imaginable test to insure the baby's health, they're still afraid. He says with the equipment he's installed, he knows when it's bad, and when it is, they leave the home for a week, maybe two...however long it takes to get back to tolerable levels. Scott says he doesn't care about how the turbines look or sound. He just wants to be able to live on his family farm. But until the current problems are corrected, he's decided the threat to his family's health and to his herd is too great, not to mention the loss in production that has threatened his economic stability.

Bob Bittner, an old-time and rather dedicated opponent who we recently haven't heard much from, was not at home when we visited his lovely farm house in Illinois...also once his father's, now surrounded with 10 turbines, all within 4000 ft of his home, and with one only 1300 ft away. His neighbors told Sandy and I that they believe he spent over $250,000 in court battles and ended up signing a deal with the developers that said he would quit interfering in exchange for not being sued for all the lost income the company incurred over the 3 or 4 years of legal wrangling he brought.

I left a note in his door, and when I got home there was an e-mail from him for the first time in a very long while saying that since the turbines went up, he and his wife Sharon, for their peace of mind, bought a cabin several miles away to escape the noise, lights and shadows...People everywhere are being driven from their homes.

In the 63 turbine Mendota Hills wind farm, it's like the twilight zone. There is no life. Almost every home within the boundaries of the project is kept to look as if someone lives there...but on close inspection it's clear that few do. All the lawns are mowed perfectly...but flowers are rare and not one vegetable garden could be found. Every house seems to have a chair or two outside in the front yards creating the appearance that people actually relax in them, but up close they're dirty and unused. Every window and door is closed, with drapes and shades drawn at eye level. There's cars and trucks with what look to be current license plates parked outside of garages or with barn doors open so you can readily see them. We didn't check for cobwebs in the mailboxes, but we wish we had, because in hindsight we're sure they were there. Even dogs were kept on leashes in many of the side yards...SIDE yards, not back yards animals that are probably being visited once or twice a day to be taken care of.

It was so disconcerting that we felt the need to drive outside the area to compare environments. Maybe everyone in Illinois stayed inside on beautiful fall afternoons with their houses locked up tight. However that wasn't what we found. Several miles away were signs of life...and living and enjoyment of the outdoors. I know this all sounds crazy, but to prove it to ourselves, we went back to the wind farm area after dark... thinking, well MAYBE everyone was at work. But inside many of these houses, just one light burned, shining through greasy grimy windows in spots where curtains were left slightly open to reveal the condition of the glass, and showing no movement inside whatsoever.

Neighbors of the various projects elsewhere told us about connectors that were not supposed to be used, but were, and have since blown holes...small craters... in roads and fields. We were told how drivers, gawking at the turbines, have driven off the roads repeatedly in certain places where now large signs have been placed to try and keep their attention where it belongs. The stories we heard often echoed each other.

There are many children involved. Some, such as in Lincoln township, have grown up knowing nothing but life under wind turbines that have been on line now for 6 or 7 years. People have been bought off where they're causing a fuss, and where they're not, they can't even get five dollars to pay for a curtain to block the shadows. In the newest of the wind developments, 33 turbines on-line since only this past August, a family's teenage daughter totaled her car with two passengers inside when she drove head on into a piece of heavy wind equipment in the middle of the road on a foggy day?and then they had to fight to get reimbursed so the vehicle could be replaced!! Another says that her little kids are terrified by the new noises outside their bedroom window and can't fall asleep, especially when conditions are bad, like on rainy nights. Their nearest turbine is 1000 feet away. Another older women says, through tears, that the town she loves and where she was born and raised and where her family farm still exists...has been ruined. Story after story after story......

Lights, shadows, noise, TV and phone interruption, gawkers, accidents, lightening strikes, lost views and plummeting property values...and more...all in video, still shots and interviews. We felt sick at the end of every we had to get away and take a break from the twirling blades and the surreal atmosphere and our sadness for all these families.

In my own town of Sardinia NY, we have fought wind development and won, at least for the time being. It felt good to get home and step out of the car into the tranquil, 'normal' environment that still exists there, and hopefully will for years to come. Now Sandy and I must package all this information, so as not to let a smidgen go to waste, because these families living in these inconceivable conditions deserve no less.
(Imagine what these places looked like before...)

Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (1)

Cresent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (2)

Mendota Hills Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Mendota Hills Wind Farm, Illinois (2)
Cresent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (3)

Cresent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
 Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (4)

Cresent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (5)

Cresent Hill Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (6)

Cresent Hill Wind Farm, Illinois September 05
Crescent Ridge Wind Farm, Illinois (7)
Tug Hill Photo

Download file (2.12 MB) pdf

SEP 27 2005
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