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No welcoming committee for wind farms; Hamilton Township among communities in opposition

WALNUT – Stacy Gonigam’s family decided against having wind turbines on their farm in southwestern Lee County.

Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power approached the family for its Green River wind farm, which is planned for Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties.

Gonigam said she didn’t sign a contract with Mainstream because it would bind her family for a long time.

“They wanted us to sign a 70-year contract,” Gonigam said. “That would affect my kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Gonigam also is the supervisor for Hamilton Township, population 236.

During the past summer, the township board voted unanimously for a comprehensive plan that recommended against the construction of wind turbines.

The township is not alone in its opposition. In the spring, the village board in Whiteside County’s Deer Grove, population 48, voted unanimously to regulate turbines within 1.5 miles of its boundaries. That was in response to news of Mainstream’s plans.

Now that Deer Grove has passed a zoning ordinance, the village has the right to ban wind farms in the areas near its borders, county officials say. Opposition to Mainstream’s proposal is strong in Deer Grove, so it’s doubtful the board will approve construction of turbines nearby.

While Hamilton Township’s comprehensive plan isn’t binding, it’s a statement against turbines, Gonigam said.

Sandy Cruse, a lifelong resident of Hamilton Township, said her survey found that 80 percent opposed wind turbines.

“Our area is recovered swampland,” said Cruse, whose family has a farm. “We’re 90 percent flood plain. It’s all supported by good drainage.

“We are stewards of the land, and we want to be good stewards. We’re all agricultural, and that’s what we would like to see.”

She feared that a wind farm would affect the drainage. She also said she and others don’t want the noise and shadow flicker associated with turbines.

Mainstream officials have pledged to be good neighbors, saying they want to reach out to residents.

Mainstream plans to put in 60 to 90 turbines in the first phase, the vast majority of which would be in Lee County. The second phase would include a similar number, officials say.

Last month, Whiteside County finished its review of its wind energy regulations. Officials decided against making changes.

Mainstream was expected to turn in its application to Whiteside County soon after that. But the company has yet to do so.

John Martin of Mainstream said his company is working on the application and expects to complete it soon.

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals has been meeting since the summer; it has recommended many changes to the existing ordinance.

On Thursday, the board will debate perhaps the biggest issue of all – the required distance between turbines and houses.

That should be the last major item of business.

The board’s recommendations will go to the full Lee County Board, which has the final say.