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Wind farm owners have saved El Paso County money by improving roads

January 2, 2016 Updated: January 2, 2016 at 4:02 pm
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A wind farm near the Paint Mines Interpretive Park is pictured on Tuesday, December 29, 2015. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Rural El Paso County roads have been reaping the benefits of a nearby wind farm and its owners, who have funded much-needed road improvements and maintenance that the county cannot afford.

Craig Dossey, the county's executive director of development services, said many of the roads used to haul heavy equipment during the wind farm's construction are in far better condition than they were before. Golden West Power Partners and NextEra Energy Resources will give the county more than $1 million to repair other eastern county roads and bridges not affected by the wind farm. 

The roads used during construction of the wind farm have been repaired, leaving the money to pay for fixes on other county roads. It's a massive benefit for a county that is limited in what roadwork it can do. 

On Dec. 22, the county commissioners amended an agreement with Golden West that initially required the company to do repairs on Paint Mine Road, which the company thought would be a haul route for construction of the wind farm. But the road was not used, and the county will put that $1,260,437 from Golden West toward Calhan-area road and bridge repairs, Dossey said.

"So really it's a kind of win-win for the folks out there," Dossey said Wednesday.

Construction of the wind farm was completed in October, culminating years of public meetings and public outcry over the plan to put 145 turbines on the plains near Calhan. Although the commissioners approved the wind farm in December 2013, an amended plan to put a 29-mile power line above ground was controversial when the board approved it in February. The decision triggered a lawsuit from residents to dismantle the power line. The lawsuit was dismissed.

Plains residents' concerns about the wind farm were myriad. Some feared a drop in property values; others, negative health effects from the farm and its power line. But many residents were concerned about the condition of county roads - among them Harrisville and Yoder roads - being used to haul equipment to the construction site.

But months after the completion of the wind farm project, Dossey said, the haul routes are in good condition.

"All those roads that Next-Era used are actually in better shape than they were before," he said. "They reconstructed, pretty much across the board, Yoder Road. It was a rural county road, but now it's a very nice road."

As part of an agreement with the county, NextEra had to maintain its designated haul routes during construction, Dossey said. Some roads, like Yoder Road, were repaired before work started because they were impassable for heavy equipment.

"That's how bad of shape Yoder Road was in," Dossey said. "It was basically like a sandbox."

"Harrisville Road, another main haul route, was given a new chip seal. NextEra also used water and magnesium chloride to keep the dust down in the area, in treatments that it did far more frequently than the county typical maintenance plan," Dossey said.

"The benefit of that was that they were providing a lot of dust mitigation that the county can't afford to do," he said.

Since Paint Mine Road will not be needing repair, the county can put $1,168,068 into road and bridge repair and $92,369 toward paving private driveway aprons, a requirement of county maintenance, Dossey said.

Dossey maintains that while the wind farm project has brought much heartache for some residents, it has done much good for the county roads.

"(NextEra) may get a black eye for some things with the residents out there in terms of health concerns and the view of the turbines, but at the end of the day, they did a pretty good job," Dossey said.

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