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Amendment blows out of county: Board of appeals votes against proposed amendment  

Proposed changes to Bureau County’s zoning ordinance on wind farms received no support from the Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday night.

After nearly three hours of testimony, an overflow crowd heard board of appeals members unanimously vote against endorsing a proposed amendment to Section 3.41-4S regarding the burial of transmission lines for power and communication. Board member Clem Newton passed on the vote.

“Out of sight and out of mind isn’t necessarily a good thing,” said zoning board member Kerry Jaggers.

Bureau County Zoning officer Kris Donarski said Thursday’s hearing was solely on a proposed text amendment to the county zoning ordinance. All but one of 12 people testifying about the amendment, however, said it would hurt the proposed Walnut Ridge Wind Farm project planned in Bureau, Greenfield, Manlius, Ohio and Walnut townships. No one testified in favor of the amendment.

“You’re coming forth with a change in an ordinance that may threaten this project,” said Bureau Valley School Superintendent Terry Gutshall. “We’re sort of known as the home of the wind turbine; we were the first school in Illinois to have a turbine. So we are concerned with this amendment.”

The 150-turbine Walnut Ridge project would use six miles of overhead transmission lines to move power from its substation to a Commonwealth Edison power grid. The proposed zoning amendment would require such lines to be buried, action that wind farm supporters say would add $15 million to $21 million in construction costs and complicate future line repairs and maintenance.

Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann frequently told speakers that the potential loss of more than $2 million in tax revenues because of the proposed amendment was not germane to Thursday’s discussion. However, Frederick Lane of a Chicago law firm representing Bureau Valley argued the amendment’s impact on future tax revenues was at the heart of the debate.

“An agricultural county like Bureau County has limited opportunity to bring in additional taxes,” Lane said. “This is a lot of money benefiting a lot of people – who are voters, by the way.”

Paul Stephanides, also representing Bureau Valley, said he believed a 1997 Illinois court decision prevents Bureau County from enacting ordinances on overhead transmission lines because such regulatory responsibility has been placed solely with the state. He also argued the ordinance could not apply to new overhead transmission lines without addressing the 87 miles of such lines already existing in the county.

According to Donarski, the Bureau County Board’s Zoning and ESDA Committee requested the amendment at its Jan. 29 meeting. It was approved by the Bureau County Planning Commission on Feb. 14, and is scheduled for a county board vote later this month.

Bureau County has previously given conditional use permits for six wind farms. Planners of the Walnut Ridge project plan to submit a similar request, pending Bureau County Board action on the amendment.

Because of topography and the limited capacity of the existing electric transmission system, Walnut Ridge is the last major wind farm site feasible in Bureau County, according to Mike Donahue of Midwest Wind Energy in Chicago.

“Bureau County is blessed to have this unique geologic feature running north-south through the county that allows wind energy generation to occur,” Donahue said. “This creates an exceptional opportunity for clean economic development that creates jobs and provides much needed tax revenues for local governments.

“Zoning amendments should be adopted to enhance these opportunities, not hinder them,” he said.

Although Walnut Ridge’s transmission line route has not been finalized, Tim Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said it would run no closer than three quarters of a mile from any town. The line would be built over private property, he added, noting that Lee, Stark and Whiteside counties allow similar lines.

“Overhead lines are being put up all over the country,” Polz said. “Underground lines are becoming more popular, but only in urban areas. The costs usually don’t justify the expense.”

According to Dennis Johnson of a Kansas-based utility engineering firm, burying six miles of the wind farm’s power lines would cost $18 million to $24 million, compared to $1.8 million to $3 million for the same lines if placed overhead. The buried lines would need a trench 3 feet wide and 5 feet deep with an 8-by-20 foot underground access area every 2,000 feet. Johnson estimated downtime for repairs would grow from a day for overhead lines to as long as six months for buried lines.

“The trench may interfere with any type of drainage that it might be crossing,” Johnson said. “If there is a failure, it is not easy to find, and it is not easy to fix.”

Keith Bolin of rural Manlius said the amendment ran contrary to elected officials’ duties to their constituents.

“We’ve got an obligation to the people who elected us to make their lives better,” he said. “If this amendment stops a half-billion investment into this county, I don’t think people understand the massive effect.”

By Ron DeBrock
BCR Correspondent


22 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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