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Wind farm a concern at airport

ROCK FALLS – The Whiteside County Airport manager is “very concerned” about wind turbines that are planned 6 miles away.

Last month, the airport board authorized him to write a letter expressing his concerns about Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power’s plan for a wind farm near Deer Grove, population 48, which is 11 miles south of Rock Falls.

The board agreed to let manager Mike Dowell write the letter, which would be sent under the board attorney’s name. The letter likely will be sent to the Whiteside County Board soon, Dowell said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that the turbines would not pose a hazard to air navigation, Dowell said. The proposed turbines would be about 500 feet high.

The airport is just south of Rock Falls.

In an interview, Dowell acknowledged there would be lights on the turbines, but said he feared that in bad weather, they would be hard to see, possibly jeopardizing people’s safety. He wondered who would maintain the lights if turbines are abandoned.

“We’re seeing some turbines being abandoned,” he said. “Are they going to neglect the lighting?”

With turbines in the area, Dowell said, medical helicopters wouldn’t be able to rescue people in emergencies.

“If you have an accident in the middle of a wind farm, don’t expect a Medivac helicopter to get you,” he said.

Dowell, a pilot himself, said he once entirely favored wind energy but has changed his position significantly.

John Martin of Mainstream said his company has submitted information to the FAA about the project. He said that he hadn’t heard about the airport’s concerns, but that Mainstream would look to the county for guidance.

Other pilots have argued for more restrictions for wind farms. They have expressed their views at meetings in Lee and Whiteside counties.

Les Cady of Cady Aerial Spray in Deer Grove has asked the Whiteside County Board to consider farmers who want to use crop-dusting services. He made that request during a review of the county’s ordinance, but the county made no changes.

If wind turbines are allowed, tens of thousands of acres of farmland may become untreatable, crop dusters say, because planes need enough room to safely navigate and make turns.

Mainstream plans turbines for Whiteside, Lee and Bureau counties.

It has submitted applications to Whiteside for nine turbines and Bureau for 19, but it hasn’t turned in one to Lee yet.

The company plans 60 to 90 turbines in the first phase and a similar number in the second.