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Editorial: Environmental turbulence

August 26, 2009

pelosi-WBy Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

The wash of windfarms may be blowing renewable energy into western Winnebago County, past the Meridian Road development firewall and into the pristine viewscape.

As a board member of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and a long-time advocate of wind power, I am conflicted and still learning. I am coming to the conclusion that large-scale wind projects may hurt certain natural areas more than they reduce our carbon footprint. But wind-generated energy is definitely in our future—we just have to decide where, how much and at what cost. I’m studying the issue, and good study takes time.

In the same spirit, it is hoped the Winnebago County Board will consider its last Meridian Road vote on the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan primary (20-3), even though wind is briefly mentioned in the plan.

The proposed ordinance is likely to become the model for all of Illinois, perhaps even a national model. We must carefully perform our due diligence with such responsibility upon us. The ordinance must be balanced, neither too permissive, nor too restrictive. The ordinance must encourage the renewable approach, but it must have very adequate safeguards; because once the land and animal interdependence is ruined, the web of life may be irreplaceable.

Having looked at the proposed ordinance, the imbalance of composition is more than apparent. The ordinance itself was actually written by the applicant (12 pages). Pretty shoddy entitlement on the county government’s part. Then, the staff and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) have 28 recommendations (five pages).

The Aug. 18 and 19 testimony at the  Zoning Board of Appeals hearing was really stacked up with experts from the wind industry. The one counter-in-depth exception was Natural Land Institute Executive Director Jerry Paulson’s recommendations, which were read in by Susan Hoff, who lives next to Seward Bluffs Forest Preserve. Paulson’s statement, along with the ordinance and amendments, are posted on our Web site, www.rockrivertimes, under “Happening Now.” Click on that heading for past postings if the topic doesn’t appear.

Many people wanted to appear at the ZBA hearing or would have, if more notice were given. Yes, a legal notice was posted, and this paper had a story about the upcoming hearings. Yet, many on vacation in the middle of August missed it; also, many townships are concerned. Farmers who were committed to the Winnebago County Fair missed it, and newly aware county residents would like to have more time to consider this issue and present alternative expert testimony.

With all the ZBA testimony the Zoning Committee now has to review, and the many requests coming in for more time and opportunity for public input, Acting Zoning Committee Chairman Paul Gorski (D-5) said the proposed wind ordinance will come before the Zoning Committee at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 404 Elm St., Room 303 for discussion only. A special meeting for rebuttal will take place Sept. 15 or 17, before the next regular meeting Sept. 23.

So citizens now have more time to consider and respond. The county should not rush this impactful ordinance. It will look like a ramrod effort for the special interests of the wind industry. Meantime, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, “Call the County Board chairman and Zoning Committee members and let them know what you think.” Gather the experts.

Our columnists, and Winnebago County Freedom Field Board members, Drs. Bob and Sonia Vogl, are among the foremost experts on wind issues in the region, being the president and vice president of the IREA. The county should consult them, and they will address the issues in their column.

Also, the county should consult their own Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (which will be more affected than almost any other land holder or environmental group)—they seem to be left out of the drafting process. How? I don’t know. The drafting of the ordinance didn’t take place in a closet, but their referendum-empowered separation from the county is not complete until the election of a new independent board. Careful. Careful. The existing one is composed of all county board members—wasn’t this on their radar?

Nonetheless, all county entities, it looks pretty shoddy, shameful, downright lazy and nearly incompetent to have an ordinance primarily written by the applicant—O Stewards of Public Land.

The  major questions are how these gigantic wind turbines and towers will affect residents, animals, travelers, the eco-tourists, natural areas, bats and birds?

Operation Migration is preparing a letter that may be delivered to the county board on impact to the Winnebago County flyway for the migration of whooping cranes. See the “Operation Migration Live CraneCam” button in the middle of the right column of our Web site.

Three major points seem poorly defined in the ordinance: 1. Consideration of migration flyways. 2. Setbacks from Natural Land Institute, Forest Preserve holdings and municipalities. 3. Density of turbines per square mile. How many are we going to allow and where? The unlimited-blanket approach is largely unacceptable. The viewscape is a horizon-to-horizon natural, aesthetic resource, too. Renewable energy, the green jobs it brings and the new crop it provides for farmers are good values, too. Safety, health for all beings in all ways and economics must come into balance on this issue. Balance. Good luck to us all.

from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue

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