MORRISON – Whiteside County Board member Ruth Stanley, R-Sterling, envisions a watchdog who will represent the people’s interests in the construction of the county’s first wind farm.
This week, the board voted 19-6 to allow Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power to put up nine turbines in the far southeastern part of the county. (Two still must get the village of Deer Grove’s approval.)
Just before the vote, Stanley proposed hiring a third-party site inspector who would look out for the interests of the county, Hahnaman Township and residents. Her idea was included as a condition for the wind farm.
The proposal took county officials by surprise. It’s still not clear exactly what the inspector’s role will be.
Mainstream would foot the bill for the county-chosen inspector, yet officials haven’t determined what the cost is.
Stanley, who voted for the wind farm, said she heard about the idea of an inspector at a highway commissioners conference.
The inspector “would watch that they [Mainstream] aren’t taking any shortcuts. These wind companies do it all the time,” she said. “We’re protecting everyone’s butts – the county, the township, individual citizens.”
Some wind energy companies are shady, Stanley said.
“We don’t know if Mainstream is. They could be workable,” she said.
County Administrator Joel Horn said the county’s zoning administrator and the county engineer will have to figure out the details on the inspector.
“We have yet to determine what it’s going to mean in practice,” he said.
County Engineer Russ Renner said an inspector usually watches over the roads portion of the project. Such a person makes sure a wind energy company returns county and township roads at least to the condition they were in before the project, he said.
This case is different because the county wants an inspector to watch over more than just roads, he said.
Sheryl Kuzma, an Ottawa attorney who has represented counties in negotiating road agreements, agreed with Renner, saying such inspectors typically deal with roads, not other aspects of the project.
John Martin of Mainstream said the inspector idea sounds like “it’s coming from good intentions.”
“We don’t have enough information to understand what it means at this point,” Martin said.
The next step for Mainstream in Whiteside County is to get building permits for the turbines.
The proposed wind farm also would include 53 turbines in Lee County and 19 in Bureau County. Those counties are still holding hearings for the project.
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