March 26, 2011

We’ll know next week …

By Donna Barker, The Bureau County Republican, 25 March 2011

PRINCETON – The Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals expects to make its recommendation next week as to whether or not to grant an extension for conditional use permits issued three years ago for the Walnut Ridge wind farm project.

About 70 people attended Thursday’s zoning board hearing at the Bureau County Courthouse in Princeton, including objectors and supporters of the project, as well as several Bureau County Board members. Though the Zoning Board of Appeals will make its recommendation, it is the full county board which makes the final decision on the extension request. The existing conditional use permits for the proposed 150-turbine project expire in August, November and December of this year.

Among the objectors addressing the appeals board was Barbara Draper of rural Ohio, who talked about continuing problems area residents are having with the Big Sky wind farm near Ohio, including interrupted television reception, noise, shadow flickering and the marring of their rural landscape. Those problems haven’t been solved in six months since Big Sky went online, Draper said.

Since the Big Sky developers are also developing the Walnut Ridge wind farm, it makes common sense there would be similar problems for the Walnut Ridge residents, Draper said. The county board needs to revisit its zoning ordinances and codes and update them, especially in light of the ongoing problems with Big Sky, she said.

Objector Steve Hamrick said he lives in Bureau Township and would be one of many people negatively impacted by Walnut Ridge. Reading a statement signed by a group of area residents, Hamrick said they love their rural lifestyle and have made a sizable investment in their properties. That lifestyle is being threatened by the Walnut Ridge project, he said, adding the problems caused by wind farms aren’t rumors, but they are facts as experienced by their neighbors around the Big Sky wind farm.

Speaking on behalf of the Walnut Ridge project, Ron Bohm said he is raising his family in rural Walnut and considers the proposed Walnut Ridge wind farm to be a good thing and not a danger or threat. For one thing, the proposed wind farm will increase tax money for the school district and other area taxing bodies, thereby reducing local dependence on state funding. Also, wind energy is a renewable clean energy source. According to his research into studies by the U.S. Department of Energy and other governmental agencies, he has seen no scientific proof that wind farms are detrimental to the health of people and animals, Bohm said.

In a closing statement, Walnut Ridge project manager Bill French said the developers have met all requirements and conditions set by the county board in its conditional use permits and zoning ordinances. The developers have made a significant financial investment into the project and want to move forward. Any potential problems, as named by the objectors, would be operational in nature and not reason to deny the conditional use permit extension requests, he said.

Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann said the county cannot change the zoning ordinances midstream on the Walnut Ridge project, but the county can take into consideration new information now available, since the conditional use permits were issued three years ago.

After more than two hours of comments from audience members, the zoning board voted 3 to 2 to reconvene the hearing until 7 p.m. Thursday, March 31, at the courthouse. Voting to wait until next week were zoning board members Jim Rapp, Keith McLane, and Barry Welbers. Board members Jamie Nickelsen and Kerry Jaggers said they were ready to vote that night.

The board members agreed with Jaggers when he said there was no way to make both sides happy.

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