DECATUR – Construction on the Radford’s Run Wind Farm project in northwestern Macon County will continue after a Macon County judge denied a motion to grant summary judgment for three dozen landowners suing to halt the project.
Macon County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Little made the decision late Tuesday afternoon after about three hours of oral arguments at the Macon County Courts Facility from attorneys representing the landowners, Macon County and E.ON, the company that will operate the wind farm. Little did not go into details for his decision, telling the attorneys that there were still factual questions that needed to be resolved.
The decision does not mean the end of the yearlong legal battle, but the landowners in attendance had hoped a ruling in their favor Tuesday would have put a stop to the ongoing construction of the wind farm north of Warrensburg and west of Maroa.
“I’m highly disappointed today,” said Bob Stiner, who along with his wife were among nine landowners present during the hearing.
Tuesday’s hearing was focused specifically on the landowner’s claims that Macon County did not follow procedural due process when it came to notifying landowners near the project, nor making available the application for the wind farm in a timely manner.
The attorney for the landowners, Rockford-based Richard Porter, argued for more than 100 minutes straight as to why Little should rule in his client’s favor. The only two times he stopped was when Little suggested that Porter “slow down” for the stenographer.
Porter reiterated many of the arguments that have been made since the lawsuit was first filed in December 2015, but he particularly focused on how the county handled notices ahead of a public hearing held in Aug. 2015.
Porter argued that the county failed to properly provide statutory notices to those in the "footprint" or on adjacent land to the project, as well as a failure to send mailed notice to those who owned land adjacent to turbines. He also took issue with how several of his clients were denied access to the application for the wind farm until after the public hearing on Aug. 11, 2015. Such a move prevented the landowners from preparing “educated questions” for the hearing, Porter said, as well as hindered their ability to consult with their own experts on the impact wind turbines could have on their property or personal well-being.
“I cannot fathom that any appellate court could determine that (my clients) were allowed procedural due process,” Porter said. “It defies logic.”
Attorneys representing both Radford's Run Wind Farm, a subsidiary of E.ON, the American unit of Germany’s largest utility company, and Macon County said that landowners had the chance to acquire legal representation before the Aug. 11 meeting, citing a deposition with a landowner that showed several of them had discussed acquiring legal representation a week before the hearing. Attorneys also argued the meeting allowed anyone to directly question representatives from E.ON and Macon County on the wind farm project.
Attorneys for the defense also said that notices were done in a legal matter, and efforts were made to contact all necessary individuals.
“Contacting those having an interest should mean an ownership interest, not just an interest in the project,” said Joseph Kincaid, a Chicago-based attorney representing non-Macon County defendants.
While Porter and the landowners expressed their disappointment with Little’s ruling, those for the defense saw Tuesday as the correct ruling.
“(Little) accurately stated what the law is,” said William Kurnik, an Rosemont-based attorney representing Macon County. “The decision was not a surprise.”
For E.ON, the decision was a chance to put the focus back on the wind farm project and officials once again touted benefits for the Central Illinois area.
“We’re pleased we’re moving forward on his,” said Greg Elko, E.ON’s senior development manager. “We’re giving millions of dollars to school districts and the local community through this project.”
Construction on the 139 turbines of Radford's Run Wind Farm started earlier this month, with plans to finish the turbines and have them operational by the end of the year.
Over the course of three decades, Maroa-Forsyth School District would receive an additional $17.1 million in property taxes, according to a study submitted as part of the wind farm application. However, it would also lose millions in state aid during that time, so overall gain for the district would be just $4.4 million. Similarly, Warrensburg-Latham School District would receive $14.6 million more in property taxes but a net revenue gain of just $4.1 million, the study said.
Clinton and Mount Pulaski school districts would receive $305,000 and $440,000 in net revenue, respectively.
Once operational, the wind farm is expected to create 10 full-time service jobs.
But there is more at stake though than just some monetary gain. With eight turbines within one mile of his property, Stiner said he is concerned with the negative health effects wind turbines can have for him and his neighbors, such as headaches as a result of shadow flickers.
After meeting for about 15 minutes after the hearing, the landowners and Porter said the case is not over for them.
“We’re going to keep fighting this,” Porter said.