The question of wind turbine location has roiled communities in St. Croix County. The township board of Forest was recently recalled in the Feb. 15 election and the Town of Troy has passed a moratorium on wind farm development.
At its board meeting Thursday, Feb. 10, the town of Troy passed a resolution putting a temporary moratorium in place for the development of wind-energy turbines in and around the town.
A four-man committee was organized by town chair Ray Knapp to look into the “what and how” of possible turbine energy generators and to make an ordinance for the town regarding the building, regulation and usage of possible turbines in the future.
Currently, there is talk at the state capital that the new administration is looking to make strict regulations and standards regarding wind turbine usage, visibility and setbacks. According to Knapp, in a situation such as this, the town may not be “more strict” with its regulations than the state.
Since the state has yet to fully develop a plan, it was suggested that the town issue a moratorium on the building of wind turbines, even though there is currently no plan to build any. The board hopes to keep prospectors and developers from looking into the possibility of constructing turbines until the town can get a hard ordinance on the books. This move was also suggested by the Wisconsin Towns Association.
The moratorium unanimously passed, and is effective until Sept. 26.
“This temporary stay in wind permits will give us time to come up with something right for the town,” said Knapp.
In addition to the moratorium, Knapp also reported that under the current project timeline, the committee would like to draft a possible town ordinance by the regularly scheduled July board meeting, and also compile a list of possible sites for developers to inspect.
The ongoing wind farm controversy has blown the sitting Town of Forest board out of office.
A recall election on Tuesday, Feb. 15, held in conjunction with the Wisconsin primary, went to the three challengers in the contest.
For the chairman position, Jamie Junker gathered 194 votes and incumbent Roger Swanepoel had 123 votes.
For the position of supervisor, challengers Rick Steinberger (207 votes) and Patrick Scepurek (185 votes) were elected. Incumbents Carlton Cress (123 votes) and Douglas Karau (113 votes) were voted out of office.
The recall election was the result of a group of Town of Forest residents who circulated a petition to remove the current board. The petition included the signatures of 93 town residents. A total of 50 signatures was required for a recall election to be conducted.
The group’s main issue with the current board was their approval of a wind project proposed by Emerging Energies LLC, which calls for some 39 turbines to be installed on parcels scattered throughout the township.
Opponents of the plan claim the proposal was approved without appropriate notice and participation from the public.
“The recall election pretty much speaks for itself,” said Junker following his successful run for the chairman post. “The Forest residents have concluded through simply reading a vast number of documents that a number of legal irregularities have taken place. These irregularities are easily understood by anyone that took the time to read the public documents to know what happened in Forest. With great confidence that they had the legal proof, the residents of Forest moved for the rare recall of its officials from office, and to nobody’s surprise they won.”
Junker said the town residents “were never told of the project details until the evening the agreement was actually approved, never knowing of the placement, size, or number at any point during what has repeatedly been said was a public process.”
The towns’ plan commission was also never publicly told of the details, Junker said, yet the formal agreement says the plan commission recommended the agreement.
“Clearly the residents of Forest feel that the previous town board, proven through the records, tried to pull the wool over the residents’ eyes and we’re finding out it didn’t work,” he said.
Junker pledged that the new town board will do “everything legally possible” to stop the wind turbine project now that they’re in office.
He said the chances of the project being stopped are good.
In a phone interview, Steinberger said he was pleased with the results of the recall.
“It was just what I had hoped for,” he said.
Steinberger said he is ready to take on the job of town supervisor and he promised to “represent the people.”
“I want to keep the process open and honest,” he said.
Scepurek was pleased with the outcome as well.
“The citizens of the township decided enough is enough,” he said.
He noted that almost all of the registered voters in the town cast a ballot in the recall, which was an encouraging sign.
“People are waking up and taking notice,” Scepurek said. “People have to start being informed and make sure that things don’t happen under the radar.”
Outgoing supervisor Cress said he didn’t have much to say in the wake of his recall, other than to say he was frustrated by the single-issue focus of the campaign to kick the board out.
“It was unfortunate that it came down to a wind turbine issue and not what it takes to run a township,” he said.
Swanepoel and Karau did not return phone calls to get their reaction to the results of the election.
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