ROCK FALLS – A public hearing for a wind farm turned into a battle between lawyers Wednesday.
The hearing was before the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The panel has met five times over the past 2 months on the wind project.
Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power is proposing nine turbines for far southeastern Whiteside County. The turbines are part of a three-county wind farm, including Lee and Bureau counties.
Some Whiteside County residents have objected to Mainstream’s plan for turbines near their homes. But the past three meetings have focused almost entirely on businessman Greg Wahl’s objections to the project.
Wahl, the CEO of Wahl Clipper Corp., owns 143 acres in southeastern Whiteside County – 22 of which he calls undisturbed prairie. He has testified that the turbines would affect threatened species.
Bob Russell, an attorney for Mainstream, told the panel in his closing statement that Wahl’s property isn’t listed in the state’s natural areas inventory. He said that nothing in a recent state Department of Natural Resources report says that Mainstream shouldn’t build.
Russell said Wahl bought the land 3 years ago and has known of Mainstream’s plan for 2 years. But the businessman only decided lately to work to get his land on the state inventory, Russell said.
“There are not studies that show that turbines are going to be harmful to turtles and snakes. There are only suppositions,” the attorney said.
Wahl’s attorney, Rick Porter, told the commission that only the county could protect the Wahl property, not the Department of Natural Resources.
He noted that the state report said the turbines would likely affect the habitat of threatened species such as the plains hognose snake and the ornate box turtle.
“Mr. Wahl has spoken with Mainstream several times. He has gotten lip service,” Porter said.
The company has the burden to show that its turbines wouldn’t affect the threatened species on Wahl’s property, he said.
Porter, who has fought wind farms in a number of counties, said his client is being reasonable when he requests that the turbines be a half-mile away from his land. The attorney said he recommended 2 miles – based on expert testimony – but that Wahl rejected that advice.
On another issue, Russell asked the commission to approve all nine turbines, even the two within 1.5 miles of the village of Deer Grove’s boundaries.
The village, population 45, has passed an ordinance barring turbines within the 1.5-mile area, which officials say it has the power to do.
Russell pointed to a law that he suggested removed such authority from municipalities if counties have zoning regulations. He also questioned whether the village could ban turbines outright.
“We hope to reach some accommodation with Deer Grove on this issue,” he said, adding that a Mainstream representative is in discussions with the village board.
“Approve the turbines and let us deal with Deer Grove,” Russell said.
The zoning commission will make a recommendation on the wind farm to the County Board, which has the final say. The commission meets again in 2 weeks.
Mainstream also plans 60 turbines for Lee County and 19 for Bureau County.
The Whiteside County Planning and Zoning Commission meets at 7 p.m. June 13 at the Rock Falls Community Building, 601 W. 10th St. Meetings last 2 1/2 hours.
The commission will continue its hearing on Mainstream Renewable Power’s proposed wind farm.
Call Whiteside County’s zoning office at 815-772-5175 for more information.
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