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Panel recommends wind farm in Whiteside County

ROCK FALLS – Whiteside County’s zoning panel on Wednesday unanimously recommended the approval of a wind farm in the county’s southeastern corner.

The decision followed more than 2 months of public hearings, including much feedback from nearby residents opposed to the project.

In a 7-0 vote, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power’s plan for nine turbines, subject to a number of conditions.

Now, the issue goes to the Whiteside County Board, which has the final say. It is expected to vote on the proposal at its Aug. 21 meeting.

Among the issues were the two turbines within 11/2 miles of village limits of Deer Grove, population 48. The village contends it met the requirements to regulate turbines within that area.

In the recommended conditions, the county would issue permits for the two turbines if the state’s attorney determines the county has jurisdiction or the Deer Grove board approves them.

Another condition would require that turbines be a half-mile away from 22 acres of “undisturbed prairie” owned by Greg Wahl, CEO of Wahl Clipper Corp. That distance is about twice as much as the required setback in the county’s wind energy ordinance.

Wahl asked for the half-mile buffer for an even larger portion of his land because of threatened species present. He would be required to identify the 22 acres.

At a minimum, according to the conditions, the wind farm’s construction workers should be trained to recognize certain species and what to do with them upon discovery.

After the commission’s decision, Wahl said he found some good things in the conditions, but he wanted his attorney to analyze them before the County Board’s vote.

Keith Bolin of Mainstream said afterward that his company didn’t know how many turbines the half-mile rule would affect. That is contingent on the exact location of the 22 acres, he said.

Deb Murphy, a resident who said that two turbines and a substation would be too close to her home, said she was glad one condition would require Mainstream to move the substation much farther away. Its original site would have been 800 feet away from her home.

“If I had to pick the worst of the two evils, it would be the substation,” she said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Stuart Richter, the county’s planning and zoning administrator, spent more than an hour reading proposed conditions and findings.

Commission members made minor changes to Richter’s proposal.

Wahl said afterward that it appeared as if everything was decided beforehand.

Richter said he wrote the conditions and findings and sent them to the county administrator and state’s attorney for review. Neither responded, he said.

He said he hoped to get the proposed conditions on the county’s website by Friday.

Mainstream is also proposing turbines in the same wind farm for Lee and Bureau counties, both of which are still holding public hearings.