TOLUCA – When the Marshall County Board gave final zoning approval in November 2010 for a 40-megawatt wind farm in the southeastern corner of the county, the plan called for construction to begin the next year.
But 18 months later, no development of the Minonk Stewardship Wind LLC project has occurred, and county officials have begun to wonder if the project will move forward within a regulatory time frame set by county ordinance.
After a series of delays, the latest communication from Stewardship “said they’re now hoping to start in October 2012,” county zoning administrator Ed Andrews said during a recent meeting of the county zoning committee.
Marshall County positioned itself early as a hospitable setting for wind energy projects. Even in the development of regulations, officials had worked closely with developers of the Camp Grove Wind Farm, a 100-turbine installation that straddles the Marshall-Stark County line.
As the 16-turbine Minonk Stewardship plan took shape for an area southeast of Toluca, lead developer Matthew Kauffman said he had withdrawn tentative plans for turbines in neighboring Woodford County because he found Marshall more welcoming. The project is a joint venture of Tiskilwa-based Stewardship Energy LLC and Akuo Energy, a Chicago-based division of a French firm.
And when the project reached the Zoning Board of Appeals and County Board, both gave approval over the objections of several area residents who did not want the towers near their homes.
“I do feel that (the developers) have met all the requirements of our zoning,” County Board member Patrick Sloan said at that time.
But now the requirements of the zoning ordinance have put the developers under the gun to get started by about the date cited by Andrews. The special use permit issued in 2010 expired a year later, and the county ordinance allows for only two possible six-month extensions after that.
Andrews said Thursday that he would grant the second extension after the committee agreed to that, but no others would be possible after November.
“If they haven’t started by then, there would have to be a new application,” he said.
In addition, the developers have so far not met two other key requirements of the ordinance, Andrews added. One is to reach an agreement with Bennington Township to repair any road damage by hauling in heavy equipment over local roads, and the other is to post a decommissioning bond that would be sufficient to remove the towers and restore the land if the project were later abandoned.
Instead of posting such a bond, Stewardship has “essentially negated the bond requirement by saying that the salvage value (of the towers) would be enough to cover it,” said Andrews.
In other words, the county would have to sell the tower components to pay for removing them, forcing the county to rely on “very speculative” estimates of scrap value, Andrews explained. He said he would refer the bond matter to Sate’s Attorney Paul Bauer for legal analysis.
Even if the salvage value is accepted, Andrews added, “The question is, does the county want to be in the scrapyard business?”
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