PRINCETON – The Zoning Board of Appeals has recommended, on a split vote, to deny extensions at this time for the Walnut Ridge conditional use permits.
At Thursday’s reconvened hearing, zoning board members Kerry Jaggers, Jamie Nickelsen and Barry Welbers voted to recommend denial of the requested extension of the proposed wind farm conditional use permits. Board members Jim Rapp and Keith McLane voted to recommend approval of the permit extension.
The existing three-year conditional use permits, issued in August, November and December of 2008, will expire this year, in the corresponding months. The Walnut Ridge developers have requested an extension of their permits until Dec. 31, 2014.
Thursday’s denial recommendation by the Zoning Board of Appeals will be sent to the Bureau County Zoning Committee, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Bureau County Courthouse in Princeton. The Zoning Committee will review the extension request, what objectors have said about the request, and then make a recommendation to the full Bureau County Board, which meets next at 6:30 p.m. April 14 in the courthouse.
The final decision on whether to extend the conditional use permits rests on the shoulders of the 26-member Bureau County Board.
Thursday’s recommendation followed about nine hours of testimony and statements, given on three separate evenings, by both objectors and supporters of the proposed Walnut Ridge wind farm.
Objections centered around existing problems which some residents are having with the Big Sky wind farm near Ohio. Those problems were stated by objectors as interrupted television reception, shadow flickering caused by the turning turbine blades, noise levels, and the lack by the Big Sky owners to take care of those problems in a timely fashion. Those problems could become a reality for the Walnut Ridge residents as well, the objectors said.
Supporters of the permit extensions said the proposed wind farm will be financially beneficial to participating landowners and the community and will increase the tax base for numerous taxing bodies. Also, any potential problems, as named by the objectors, are operational in nature and should not be a reason to deny the extension requests, the Walnut Ridge developers said.
At Thursday’s hearing, Jaggers said he was making the motion, to recommend denying the extension request at this time, because of the new information which came out during the lengthy hearing, specifically information about the Big Sky wind farm problems and the fact those problems are still not resolved.
Jaggers said he is not opposed to wind energy, but he believes the county’s zoning ordinances and conditional use permits do not protect Bureau County residents as the county had hoped. The zoning ordinances need to be refined and there should be a designated time frame for the mitigation of any problems, Jaggers said.
Rapp recommended approval of the extension request because the developers have met the stipulations of the existing permits and he didn’t want to send the message to the county board that the zoning board opposes wind farm development. The Walnut Ridge project should be kept alive, he said. Rapp did agreed there are problems which need to be addressed by the county board and the Walnut Ridge developers.
When Walnut Ridge developer Tim Polz asked if the developers could voluntarily agree to additional stipulations on their conditional use permits, State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann said it was too late to do any changes to the original conditional use permits.
Following Thursday’s hearing, Polz said the Walnut Ridge developers, who also developed Big Sky but are not the current owners, said the developers are still committed to the development of Walnut Ridge at this time.
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