PRINCETON – Area residents continue to plead their case to the Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals as to why the board should not recommend an extension of conditional use permits for the proposed Walnut Ridge wind farm in northern Bureau County.
An estimated 75 people attended Thursday’s Board of Appeals hearing at the Bureau County Courthouse in Princeton. Starting out Thursday’s hearing was Rockford attorney Rick Porter, representing a group of the objectors to the Walnut Ridge project.
In his 60-minute statement and Power Point presentation, Porter said a lot of new information has been learned about wind farms since Bureau County issued the three-year Walnut Ridge conditional use permits in 2008, in the months of August, November and December.
Bureau County needs to go back to its zoning ordinances and stipulations before going ahead with any extensions or further wind farm developments, Porter said. The county needs to rethink its inadequate setback requirements and decommissioning plan and to put into place other requirements, such as site plans and studies on noise, health and property values, to name a few, the attorney said.
“Why the zoning board of appeals would consider extending these conditional use permits is beyond me,” Porter said. “The county’s current zoning ordinance is outdated and insufficient.”
If the Walnut Ridge extensions are granted by the Bureau County Board, the result will no doubt be a lawsuit, which he will win, Porter said.
In response, Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann said he was sure the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Bureau County Board realizes there could be an appeal on whatever decision is made. (The Zoning Board of Appeals will make its recommendation to the full Bureau County Board, which makes the final decision on any extensions.)
Also addressing the appeals board at Thursday’s hearing was crop duster Les Cady of Rock Falls, who talked about hazards for crop dusters caused by wind farms, and DeKalb County residents Mel Hass and Dave Hulthen, who talked about problems they are having at their homes because of a nearby wind farm.
Bureau County residents Allan Harris, Deb Anderson and Deanna Wilt also expressed their concerns about ongoing problems with the existing Big Sky wind farm, in the rural Ohio area, and their concerns that those Big Sky problems could also happen in the Walnut Ridge area.
Harris said he lived a peaceful life until Big Sky was built, and now he is dealing with continued television reception problems, shadow flickering and noise from the wind turbines. He’s not able to sleep at night. Big Sky is not responding to the problems as quickly as they should.
“This is what the Walnut Ridge folks have to look forward to,” Harris said.
Wilt said she and her husband and her son and daughter-in-law, who live nearby, are 100 percent vested in their rural Walnut property. According to numbers presented at an earlier hearing, the Walnut Ridge developers are less than 1 percent vested in their $500 million project. The county board needs to represent and protect the residents of the county, not the developers, she said.
Wilt urged the county board to correct issues with the existing zoning ordinance before granting any extensions to Walnut Ridge. Once the corrections are made, the Walnut Ridge developers can start over again, she said.
In her statement, Deb Anderson said the Big Sky problems could definitely become the same problems for Walnut Ridge area residents unless the county takes the time now to stop and redo the existing zoning ordinances. The problems caused by Big Sky are problems which the Ohio residents have lived with daily since the wind farm went online last September, she said.
“I ask that you do not renew these conditional use permits for Walnut Ridge until 100 percent of these complaints against Big Sky have been 100 percent resolved,” Anderson said.
In addition to the Big Sky issues, Anderson said the proposed Walnut Ridge wind farm would mean 32 transmission line poles and 20 turbines (for Walnut Ridge) that will also be in direct view from her home.
“I don’t know how much more we can put up with,” Anderson said. “I’m not against wind energy and wind turbines; I’m just asking that you keep them away from our homes.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals will continue its hearing on the Walnut Ridge conditional use permit extension issue at 7 p.m. March 24 at the Bureau County Courthouse in Princeton.
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