BELVIDERE – Boone County officials are ready to re-examine and rewrite county laws that govern wind farms.
Politicians here have wrestled with how to handle the electricity-generating turbines since the first request in the county for weather-testing equipment was made about a decade ago.
The issue is contentious, dividing County Board members’ votes and landing the board in court over its decision to deny a wind farm in 2005.
With a new wind-energy company announcing its presence in Boone County, board members want to update their laws in preparation for the latest proposal.
International wind developer Mainstream Renewable Power started surveying Boone County as a potential wind farm site in 2009, but activity really picked up last year. Advertisements the company placed in Boone County newspapers touted wind farms as a source of job creation and a means to strengthen the economy. Mainstream held a June open house to explain its $400 million plan to build 100 turbines on about 12,000 acres in northern Boone County, primarily in LeRoy and Manchester townships.
“It’s the biggest thing that’s hit LeRoy Township in the last 50 years, and it’s going to last another 50 years in the future,” said Oral Staman, supervisor of LeRoy Township.
Staman said the township board is neutral on the project, but it has concerns about damage to roads during construction, decommissioning turbines once their useful life is over and how far turbines could be placed from homes.
“We need to make sure our citizens our safe and that it’s not a terrific disruption,” he said.
‘Language … insufficient’
The board shares those concerns, said Marshall Newhouse, vice chairman of the board and chairman of its Planning, Zoning and Building Committee. The committee decided Wednesday to reopen its code books and update its wind regulations.
“The committee decided our current language in the zoning code is insufficient,” Newhouse said. “The committee has recognized that what we have is absolute bare bones and doesn’t address what other counties are dealing very heavily with.”
County staff members told board members they felt the code was sufficient so long as proper conditions were put in place during the permit process. The code should not be so specific that it doesn’t leave room for conditions or require constant updates, members of the city-county planning department argued unsuccessfully.
“Every decommissioning plan is going to be different depending on the size of the tower or the kind of tower. Every road agreement is going to be different depending on what roads and bridges are being used and who has jurisdiction of them,” associate planner Gina DelRose said. “Those should be tailored to that specific project” in the conditions.
The County Board last tinkered with wind regulations in 2008, when it overhauled zoning codes. Among its decisions in July 2008 was the requirement that wind turbines are placed at least 1,000 feet from homes and distance between turbines and property lines must be at least 1.1 times the height of the tower.
The next steps
Mainstream Renewable Power has decided it will wait until the board has updated its code before it submits the official application detailing the scope of the project, DelRose said. Attempts to reach representatives of the company by phone last week were unsuccessful.
Updating the wind turbine regulations could take several months. Board members already have begun to research potential changes. On Jan. 26, about 15 people – including county staff,; members of the board; the Planning, Zoning and Building committee; the Zoning Board of Appeals; and officials from the county’s soil and water and conservation districts – traveled to Lee County to tour three wind farm sites.
“We took the trip to Lee County … to get the perspective of a county that’s had wind projects in it longer than any county in the state,” Newhouse said.
“With those conversations under our belt … we realized we have some work necessary to update our code. This is not a process we want to do on our own. I would welcome public input.”
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