Editorial: Chairman Clear-cut?

October 7, 2009

By Frank Schier

Editor and Publisher

What a mess! That is what is being made by the proposed wind ordinance to the Winnebago County 2030 Land Resource Management Plan.

Ever see a clear-cut out in the Rocky Mountains, where a timber company comes in and just slaughters acres and acres? You drive out of an evergreen-lined highway into a long section of a dirty-brown, tree-stump wasteland. Same goes for the strip mines out in the Appalachian Mountains. They both gut the land and wildlife habitat.

Risking hyperbole, Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) and his invisible right hand, Building Department Deputy Director Jim Hughes, in my opinion, are letting Navitas blow the real Green status they achieved during the three-year-long passage process right into the “Greenwash” manure pasture. They might as well clear-cut all our Natural Land Institute holdings, county forest preserves or anything else protected by the 2030 Plan’s Greenways Plan or Natural Resource Inventory (NRI). Money and jobs at all costs.

Believe it or not, Navitas, the special interest group requesting the ordinance (the very industry the ordinance will regulate) wrote most of the ordinance. Then, the Zoning Board of Appeals made some good changes after ill-timed, short-notice and too-few hearings. Then, the County Zoning Committee made some more good changes but failed the citizens and the environment by not requiring special-use permits with public hearings for each site. Board member Steve Schultz (R-2) should be commended for his knowledge and efforts.

Consider the following state statute:

(55 ILCS 5/5-12020)

Sec. 5-12020. Wind farms. A county may establish standards for wind farms and electric-generating wind devices. The standards may include, without limitation, the height of the devices and the number of devices that may be located within a geographic area. A county may also regulate the siting of wind farms and electric-generating wind devices in unincorporated areas of the county outside of the zoning jurisdiction of a municipality and the 1.5-mile radius surrounding the zoning jurisdiction of a municipality.

There shall be at least one public hearing not more than 30 days prior to a siting decision by the county board. Notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.

Counties may allow test wind towers to be sited without formal approval by the county board. Test wind towers must be dismantled within 3 years of installation. For the purposes of this Section, “test wind towers” are wind towers that are designed solely to collect wind generation data. Any provision of a county zoning ordinance pertaining to wind farms that is in effect before the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 95th General Assembly may continue in effect notwithstanding any requirements of this Section.

(Source: P.A. 95-203, eff. 8-16-07.)

Sounds pretty clear, eh? Hearings are required for each site. Not according to Zoning Committee Vice Chairman Paul Gorski (D-2), who cited the circumlocution of our county’s state’s attorney, whose offices told him the general-use permit (windmills anywhere) precludes the state statute. Gorski says the Navitas lawyers agree. Surprise. If this passes, he’s going to submit it to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) for an opinion.

She may get to weigh in on another matter, too. Representatives from Navitas spoke before the Democratic and Republican  caucuses this week, and Navitas wants items deleted from the wind ordinance.

From what he heard in his caucus, Gorski sent out a letter stating:  “I thought I should notify you that Navitas, the company requesting the text amendment, has requested that we REMOVE from the proposed ordinance:

1) Natural Resource Information (NRI) studies reviewed by the Soil and Water Conservation district

2) Wildlife/Avian Survey and Mitigation plans based on NRI evaluations

3) Bird and Bat Migration Studies.”

When I called Christiansen to have a “subtle” discussion on this issue, he admitted they even presented a map of all the bird migration paths in the state. After I shouted he was gutting the 2030 plan, among other things, he shouted back that the map shows barring migration paths would shut out windmills from the whole state. Scott and I had a good “talk.” He loves our “talks,” as do I. I must admit, he’s very accessible, and he listens.

Hello, Scott Christiansen and Lisa Madigan! The Navitas verbal and map presentation—again, the regulated industry is writing its own text, an amendment this time—is NEW TESTIMONY. Gorski, and the most knowledgeable board member on zoning issues on the county zoning committee, Dave Yeske (R-2), both say this violates state statutes because the full county board cannot vote on testimony other than what was brought before the ZBA or the zoning committee. So, for this issue to be considered by the full county board, the process has to start all over again, beginning with new ZBA hearing and zoning committee consideration. Good. We need more time. Actually, at his request, I’m meeting with the Chairman, Natural Land Institute Executive Director Jerry Paulson, and the Navitas representative this week before the board meeting. Christiansen said the issue could be laid over. Good. He said he did not want to rush this, and the issue could be laid over for two weeks until the next meeting. Good.

I’ll bring something to the meeting. The American Wind Energy Association has developed a 178-page “Wind Energy Siting Handbook” outlining practices to avoid or mitigate the impacts of utility-scale wind installations on wildlife.  You can find the entire document at www.awea.org/sitinghandbook/. Give it a read.

Is Navitas following its own industry standards? I don’t think so.

Christiansen admitted he met with Seward Township Supervisor Garelt Stahl and Planning Commission Chairman Carl Heeren Oct. 6, 11 a.m., before their meeting on the legal objection they have filed against the ordinance. He said he did not, as I put it, “put them in a headlock.” The Seward Township Planning Commission Oct. 6, 7 p.m,  is reportedly because pro-turbine landowners initiated the meeting to get the township to rescind their objection. Navitas may be there. Stahl and Heeren own land that windmill could be sited on—conflict of interest?

Well, it is their land and back yard. Yes, I’m a NIMBY, Not In My Back Yard. You see, western Winnebago County is all of our back yards. I don’t want an ordinance passed that kicks out the NRI, the Greenways plan, and the Meridian Road firewall. We all fought so hard for those, and it wastes the approximately $350,000 of county taxpayer money and all the time the focus groups donated to getting a good 2030 plan.

Another waste would be eight years of training that Operation Migration has spent its resources and hearts on in trying to save the  federal endangered species, the whooping crane. Their ultralight planes fly the cranes through Winnebago County, landing here for a rest outside Pecatonica, and down to Florida. Oh, great. So we don’t have migration paths in our wind ordinance, and we attract international, national and federal attention because we are threatening an endangered species. Oh, great!

For the last turn of the blade, as Christiansen points out, and I originally told him, the Winnebago County ordinance will be a model ordinance for the state and the nation. We must be as responsible to the environment and wildlife and wind industry as possible. We’ll all see how we do. Clear-cut—or a conservative, responsible precedent we all can be proud of because of its balance for everyone?- It’s a complicated, not-so-clear-cut issue; let’s not rush it; even Chairman Christiansen says that.

From the October 7-13, 2009 issue

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