PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board narrowly defeated a motion Tuesday that would have sought fines for the Iberdrola Renewable wind farm.
At the meeting, board member Joe Bassetti made a motion to have Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann go before a judge to seek fines for three wind turbines and a meteorological tower in the Providence Heights wind farm that were built too close to adjoining properties. The violations have since been remedied, either by the purchase of property or removing the offending structure.
“With the new wind turbines that could be coming into this area, I would like to at least let them know that they’re supposed to build them where they should,” Bassetti said. “They should build them and not just step all over us.”
Board member Mike Maynard said he agreed with Bassetti, but he questioned whether the fines were appropriate, since it was several years since the violations had occurred.
Bassetti said he had been asking for the fines for years, but the outside legal counsel recommended waiting for the county’s lawsuit against Iberdrola regarding the road agreement to be settled. The two parties reached an agreement last spring.
Herrmann had one question.
“Does the board authorize the hiring of expert witnesses?” he said.
Herrmann said at the very least the county would need at least a surveyor to testify.
Bassetti said the company had already admitted its wrongdoing.
“They acknowledged they were in the wrong place, or they wouldn’t have bought property to fix it,” he said.
Herrmann said the county would still need a surveyor to testify.
Board member Steve Sondgeroth asked if there was any provision in the county’s zoning ordinance to pass the costs along to the company, but Herrmann said a general violation of the zoning ordinance just carries a fine.
“The fees are not recoverable,” he said.
The fines could range from $1 to $500 per week per violation, and Herrmann said the exact amount would be dependent on how far off site the violations were and the amount of potential harm.
Sondgeroth said he had mixed feelings.
“I think we ought to send a strong message to the wind farm people that are developing in our county that they ought to at least go by our zoning ordinance,” he said. “At the same time, Mr. Herrmann, do you think our costs would exceed the fines collected?”
Herrmann said he didn’t know if costs would exceed the fine.
“We haven’t gone down this road before,” he said.
Board member Dan Rabe pointed out that when Iberdrola found they were violating the zoning ordinance, they immediately started to remedy the problem.
“As soon as they found out they were in the wrong place, they started,” he said. “They didn’t wait for us to tell them.”
Rabe said that could bring the fine closer to the $1 per week mark.
Bassetti’s motion failed to pass on an 11-15 vote.
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