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Lee County wind farm hearings drag on

DIXON – The hearings for a proposed Lee County wind farm could last months, much longer than ever before.

For previous wind farms, hearings only lasted one night, but with nearly a decade’s experience, opposition has grown in Lee County.

Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power is proposing wind turbines for Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties.

In Whiteside County, the hearings only lasted 2 months, starting in May. The Whiteside County Board is set to vote on it later this month.

In Lee County, the Zoning Board of Appeals started its hearings in early July. Four have been held so far. During three of them, opponents cross-examined an appraiser who repeatedly testified he had found no evidence that turbines affect nearby home values.

That same appraiser, Michael Crowley of Princeton, was on the stand for just one hearing in Whiteside County.

Hearings in Bureau County, which also has much experience with wind farms, have been continuing since March, with no end in sight.

Tuesday, the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals held its fourth hearing for the Mainstream project. After nearly 2 hours, Crowley left the stand. Eight residents questioned him that night alone.

Afterward, John Martin, a Mainstream project manager, was cross-examined by Rockford attorney Rick Porter, who represents Hamilton Township and a number of residents who would live near the proposed wind farm.

After a half-hour, the meeting’s facilitator, retired Judge Tim Slavin, closed the hearing. Porter said he had hours worth of questions left for Martin alone.

The next hearing is Sept. 4, nearly a month from now.

When the zoning board completes the hearings, it will make a recommendation to the County Board, which has the final say. At the current pace, it may be a new County Board, which takes office Dec. 1, that will vote on the wind farm, which could make it an issue in the November election.

During testimony, Crowley indicated that Mainstream planned to bring more expert witnesses, including for issues such as turbines’ sound and shadow flicker.

Slavin got annoyed at times during Tuesday’s hearing, telling one resident that he had asked the longest question Slavin had ever heard. He thanked those who tried to avoid questions already asked.

Porter, who has fought wind farms across northern Illinois, often takes center stage during hearings. For much of Tuesday’s meeting, he had to wait his turn, often doodling or checking his phone.

About 35 residents attended, many of them familiar faces from past meetings about wind energy issues.

Mainstream proposes 53 turbines for Lee County, 19 in Bureau County and nine in Whiteside County.

To attend

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon. The meeting is expected to last 2 1/2 hours.

The board will resume its public hearing for Mainstream Renewable Power’s application for turbines in the southwestern area of the county.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings, or more information, go to www.leecountyil.com or call 815-288-5676.