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Wind farm proposal passes zoning board
Posted By Jim Hagerty On August 19, 2009 @ 11:49 am In Happening Now | No Comments
By Jim Hagerty, Staff Writer
Updated August 18, 2009, 11:42 p.m. CT
Tuesday, Aug. 18, the Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals nudged a wind farm a step closer to southwestern Winnebago County. The board approved an amended ordinance with a unanimous vote after a two-day public hearing that included nine hours of testimony.
Representatives of the wind farm contractor, Navitas Energy Corp., expert witnesses and others, spoke for and against the project at Memorial Hall Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Monday, Aug. 17, some stood steadfastly against the plan, while others called for further studies before the 16-page ordinance, drafted by Navitas, was voted on.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will now present its vote to the county’s zoning committee before the ordinance is passed along to the Winnebago County Board for a final vote.
Navitas plans to build about 100 wind turbines on private farmland it will lease near Seward. According to reports, the company would pay participants between $3,000 and $6,000 per year for each of the 40 turbines in Winnebago County.
The vote came after the original ordinance was reviewed by county zoning personnel, Winnebago County State’s Attorney and planners.
While attorney’s called expert witnesses and Navitas staff, some of the approximately 35 people on hand still felt the wind farm should be voted down.
“I’m going to be next to it,” Seward Township resident, Don Bomgarden said. “I’m going to be hearing it.”
Bomgarden joined others who claim a wind farm, consisting of 400- to 600- foot turbines, would be unsightly and possibly unsafe and harmful to the natural and agricultural landscape.
Elmer Rhodes, also of Seward, lives in the footprint of Navitas’ Mendota Hills wind farm, built in 2003. So far, Rhodes said, there have been no problems. He said the turbines he and his wife, Pearl, live among are quiet and unobtrusive. Rhodes is leasing about 3 acres to Navitas to participate in the project.
“The revenue from [the turbines] is more than I’d get per acre from farming,” Rhodes said.
Rebutting the argument wind farms are unsightly and unsafe, Freeport Attorney, Steve Cox, hired to represent Navitas, said the decision to participate is up to each landowner and should not be left for non-participating citizens to decide.
“Property owners have the right to do what they wish with their land, within the scope of the law,” Cox told the panel.
Cox also urged those against the ordinance to use caution when researching rumors, unsophisticated information and negative reports about wind turbines.
Navitas experts testified the company’s transportation plan, emergency response measures and overall project management is sufficient and well-drafted.
Witnesses also said wildlife studies would be done in accordance to industry guidelines, which may include consultation with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Local experts, most of which are for the use of alternative energy, said the project should come with careful planning.
“No set of procedures or ordinances will eliminate all negative impacts on wildlife, but careful planning and siting of wind farms will help avoid the loss of critical habitat and reduce the mortality of birds and bats,” Jerry Paulson, Executive Director of the Natural Land Institute, said.
Troy Krup of the Winnebago County Planning, Zoning & Mapping Division said despite Tuesday’s approval, those against the ordinance can still formally object. Ojections, he said, must be done according to state statute (5/5-12014. Amendment of Regulations and Districts), which could include township voices.
“A valid objection would force a supermajority favorable vote of all the members of the County Board for its adoption/approval,” Krup indicated in an e-mail.
The Winnebago County Board also has the power to refer the matter back to the Zoning Board of Appeals once members review the ordinance, which includes several additions to the original draft.
“There were 27 or 28 changes,” Krup said.
It isn’t known when the Winnebago County Board will cast its final vote. Krup’s office is adding the changes before the amended ordinance is turned over to committee members, which could happen as early as next week.
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