PRINCETON – After weeks of debate and public input, the Bureau County Board voted 16-7 to extend for 3 years the conditional-use permits and variances given the 150-turbine Walnut Ridge wind farm.
They were obtained by developers Midwest Wind Energy in 2008, and were to expire later this year. The extensions now are good until Dec. 31, 2014.
Zoning Committee Chairman Marsha Lilley said the panel did not make a recommendation to the full county board.
The earlier Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the extension request, that concluded March 31, resulted in a split vote, with three members voting to deny the extensions and two voting to recommend the extensions.
Walnut Ridge will bring millions of dollars into the county each year, as well as provide 10-15 good-paying jobs and one-time permit fees.
The county needs to welcome the wind farm developers and work through any problems, board member Mike Kohr said.
Zoning Officer Kris Donarski noted that the county board did grant extensions for 16 turbines for the Big Sky project and for Crescent Ridge II, south of Tiskilwa, although the Crescent Ridge extensions were not acted upon.
The county board has not denied any extension requests, Donarski said.
During the earlier public comment portion of the April 14 meeting, the board heard from several objectors, including Deanna Wilt, Roger Gillan, Steve Hamrick and attorney Rick Porter, who was representing a group of objectors.
Hamrick said Bureau County was fooled by the Crescent Ridge, Providence Heights and Big Sky developers into thinking wind farms would not bring a diminished quality of life for area residents.
Addressing the board on behalf of Walnut Ridge were Tim Polz, of Midwest Wind Energy, and landowner Charles Meisenheimer, who said he spoke on behalf of other participating landowners.
The county needs to embrace wind energy and the economic advancements it brings, Meisenheimer said.
Walnut Ridge will cause an increased equalized assessed valuation of more than $2.6 million, not taking into account the more than $2 million in one-time fees and permits the county will collect, he said.
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