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Walnut approves setbacks

WALNUT – The village of Walnut has drawn a line in the sand, and it’s about 1.5 miles outside the village limits.

At Monday’s village board meeting, trustees approved two motions to regulate the construction of wind turbines near the village limits.

The first motion passed was for an ordinance to regulate how close to the village a turbine could be erected. According to state statutes, a municipality has jurisdiction over turbines located within 1.5 miles of the village’s boundaries, but that law apparently hasn’t been sufficient.

The Bureau County Board approved conditional use permits for the proposed Walnut Ridge wind farm that included 12 turbines with locations varying from 0.7 miles to 1.4 miles from village limits.

Village President Robert Brasen told the board he had been in contact with Bill French from Midwest Energy since the last board meeting.

“He is working on relocating back the roughly 11 towers, all within a mile and a half,” Brasen said. “The first two that are definitely under a mile are getting pushed back.”

Brasen said French believed all of the turbines could be relocated about 1.25 miles from the village.

That’s not quite the 1.5 miles in the state statute, but Brasen said, according to Village Attorney Rob LaSage, the village’s hands are tied.

“With the understanding from our attorney, we cannot use the word ‘prohibit,’” Brasen said. “We can regulate the way things happen.”

Brasen said the ordinance created by LaSage would effectively ban turbines within one mile of the village limits, and require board approval for anything between one and 1.5 miles from the village.

The board approved the ordinance on a 5-1 vote with Duane Christensen casting the no vote.

The board then approved filing an appeal against the county board’s decision on April 14 to extend Walnut Ridge’s conditional use permits. The appeal would ask the county board to reverse its decision about the turbines within 1.5 miles of Walnut.

Trustee Lori Wilkinson urged the board to approve the motion.

“We owe it to the people for the south side,” she said.

The appeal passed on a 5-1 vote with Christensen again casting the negative vote.

The board’s decision followed two more speakers on the wind setback topic.

“I am not, not opposed to wind turbines,” said resident Marcia Magnuson. “It is the right of every landowner to decide whether or not he wants wind turbines on his land.”

But she was concerned about the proposed setbacks.

“When the economy turns around, and it will turn around, what company or business is going to want to come to a town that’s surrounded by wind turbines?” she said. “Where would they find land to put a business or a company?”

Magnuson said she wanted to know why an ordinance protecting the village wasn’t submitted three years ago when the Walnut Ridge Project was first approved, and why the ordinance still hasn’t been approved to protect the area north of Walnut.

Magnuson said letters sent to the county board about the setback did no good.

“Now the county board is out of it, and we are on our own,” she said.

Magnuson also protested French’s appearance at the board’s May 16 meeting and his claims of lost revenue.

“Midwest Energy could locate the turbines farther away from town,” she said. “No revenues would be lost.”

Magnuson also urged the board to file the appeal, which needs to be filed within 90 days of April 14, the date when the conditional use permits were extended.

“Time’s running out, and the clock is ticking,” she said.

Magnuson urged the board to take action.

“As our representatives, please consider the future of our village and take the necessary action to establish a 1.5 mile setback on all sides of Walnut,” she said. “You can do that.”

Ed Gerdes was the second speaker, and he also urged the board to take action on the setbacks.

“They can move – they’re not built yet,” Gerdes said. “Once they’re up, it’s done.”