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Walnut approves more limited setbacks

WALNUT – The Walnut Village Board has approved an ordinance that will regulate both big and small wind turbines outside the village’s corporate limits.

Four weeks after authorizing Village Attorney Rob LeSage to create a setback ordinance, trustees approved an ordinance that was even more restrictive than was first proposed.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, LeSage said the ordinance would regulate both large commercial wind farms and small personal use wind towers, and set forth a conditional use procedure for the approval of permits.

“It’s takes a leap from the existing conditional use procedures,” he said. “This will require what I call a full-blown evidentiary hearing in front of the planning commission.”

LeSage said the hearing would require the company to provide information regarding setbacks, decommissioning plans, road agreement and a complaint procedure.

LeSage said the biggest change from the sample ordinance the village had previously discussed came in the area of regulating the big wind farms. He said regulations were the village’s only option.

“Our view of the law is that we have the power to regulate, which is granted under the Illinois Municipal Code,” he said. “You can’t do it, what I would call, through the front door. In other words, you can’t have a one-page ordinance like they did in Deer Grove that says we’re going to prohibit them, and second, you can’t go through the back door. You can’t have regulations that are so onerous it’s impossible to comply with.”

Walnut’s ordinance would ban wind turbines within one mile beyond the corporate boundaries. The sample ordinance would have permitted turbines within 1 to 1.5 miles from the village if approved by the village. However, after what LeSage referred to as a “fruitful” conversation with Rick Porter, who is the attorney for the people suing regarding the Walnut Ridge project, LeSage decided on a different methodology.

“I think that we can treat the wind farms like we would any other use within the city,” he said. “The city designates residential uses; it designates industrial uses; it designates business uses; and allocates different areas where those are permitted.”

So after consulting with Village President Robert Brasen and reviewing current maps, LeSage recommended limiting wind turbines in the 1 to 1.5 mile range to the industrial use areas on the northwest and southeast areas of the village.

Brasen said those areas would go along with the village’s future plans, which would likely continue industrial growth in those areas.

LeSage stressed that proposed turbines in those areas would still need to get permission from the board.

“They still would have to come to this body for that souped-up evidentiary procedure,” he said.

LeSage said he checked the Internet and spoke with attorneys and engineers in creating the ordinance. The ordinance also includes a permitting fee and requires a permit applicant to pay costs if the village needs to consult legal counsel or another third party.

“I’ve tried to come up with a set of regulations that are reasonable and workable for this municipality,” he said.

“I think it’s fair,” said Trustee Terry Glaudel, who made the motion to approve.

The ordinance was adopted on a 5-1 vote, with Trustee Duane Christensen voting against the ordinance. Trustee Debbie Quinn was absent.

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Appeal ready to be filed

Robert LeSage told the Walnut Village Board he had drafted an appeal regarding the proposed Walnut Ridge Wind Farm, and it would be filed by July 14.

LeSage said the appeal would be filed in Bureau County Circuit Court, where there is already an existing complaint from 37 Bureau County residents on file.

After the complaint is filed, LeSage said there will likely be a first appearance in front of the judge, who might decide to consolidate the cases because many of the complaints are the same.

But not all of the complaints.

“Most of our claims are matters of law, not fact,” LeSage said. “It’s really a jurisdiction question – who has the authority to regulate within 1.5 miles?”

LeSage warned the process could be lengthy.

“It could go quickly, but I think it will probably take some time,” he said.