BELVIDERE – Mainstream Renewable Power would like to see Boone County’s 1,000-foot setback for wind turbines remain in effect.
But the county’s planning, zoning and building committee is recommending an increase to 2,000 feet, with a possible waiver to 1,400 feet.
That’s part of the package of revised wind farm regulations being considered by the zoning board of appeals. A second public hearing, this one lasting just shy of four hours, was held Tuesday night. It was continued to tonight at 7 p.m. in the county administration building, 1212 Logan Ave.
There only are nine speakers remaining and no one else will be allowed to sign up. So the ZBA likely will be drafting its recommendation that night.
Twenty speakers consumed the four-hours on Oct. 23, averaging 12 minutes each, with Mainstream spokesman Keith Bolin drawing the most attention.
His five-minute time slot actually lasted more than 20 minutes as he was grilled on matters related, and unrelated, to the proposed text amendments. And some became angry when he would not answer questions he thought were irrelevant to the proceedings.
Bolin said Mainstream preferred the current 1,000 setback. “Now we’re having the rug pulled out from under us with the 2,000 feet” being proposed, he said. “That’s very unsustainable if you want wind development.”
Later, board member Dana Pelan asked about the difference between 1,000 and 2,000 feet? Bolin replied, “If a developer sees a county with a 2,000-foot setback and it isn’t already there it’s not going there.”
On another matter Bolin said the proposal that all decommissioning money be put in escrow at the beginning of the development would work a financial hardship on Mainstream. “Let’s put that amount aside over time,” he said.
Mainstream is proposing the construction of upwards of 100 turbines on 8,000 in northeastern Boone County.
Once Bolin finished board Chairman Norm Stimes opened the floor to questions from the board and then from the audience.
There are a number of restricted landing areas in the county and board member Darrel Davis asked Bolin which setback he preferred. Speakers earlier in the hearing favored two miles.
“We would be more than happy to work with any private airstrip,” Bolin replied.
Another board member, Mark Rhode, wondered what would happen if all crop dusters refused to fly over fields near wind farms and the crops died. Would Mainstream be responsible for that loss?
Bolin said they had not heard that was a possibility.
Wind farm opponents posed their questions at that point, with one asking how far the setback should be to protect non-participating landowners?
“You’re assuming you’re being damaged in some way,” Bolin answered. The he added, “We could support 1,400 feet or 3.1” times the height of the turbine. “We’ve done good neighbor agreements.”
Brian Van Laar asked Bolin if the 1,000-foot setback would guarantee the health, safety and welfare of county residents?
“That’s not the proposal that’s before this body,” Bolin replied.
A woman asked him about Mainstream’s experience in developing wind farms.
“This is irrelevant,” Bolin said.
The woman said it was appropriate because Mainstream has no track record when it comes to building wind farms. It had to do with decommissioning, one of the issues being considered, because Mainstream officials have said they would sell the wind farm should it received a special use permit in Boone County.
Bolin was asked about Mainstream’s opinion on how close a wind turbine should be to a school? “We’d work with the zoning board and the county board on that,” was the answer.
He then was asked if Mainstream was affiliated with any countries that aren’t friendly to the United States? “I really want to answer questions about the text amendments,” he replied.
“Why won’t you answer that?” the questioner persisted. That also has to do with decommissioning, in the event the project is sold.
The final question was whether Mainstream felt comfortable with a two-mile setback for restricted landing areas? “I don’t feel comfortable answering that tonight,” Bolin said.
Of the 20 speakers Tuesday night 13 expressed concerns about wind farms, five supported them and two offered general comments.
Emotions ran high, as they did during the first hearing. Wind farm opponents often applauded when they heard something they liked, continuing to do so after Chairman Stimes asked them to stop.
Wants relevant comments
At one point board member Davis said they weren’t hearing comments about setbacks, decommissioning, roads and other text amendment-related issues. “What I’m hearing is emotional reaction,” he said.
He asked for a spokesman from among the standing room-only crowd to proposed a setback from the restricted landing areas. No one offered to do that.
Another board member, Joan Krumm, disagreed with Davis, saying she had not heard much of what was being said by the various speakers.
She added that there seemed to be staff and members of the board “who don’t want to hear this.” If the board doesn’t hear what people have to say it won’t be able to make a fair decision,” she said.
Krumm received a hearty round of applause for her observations.
That didn’t deter Davis, however. “This process is just a ploy to give people more than their five minutes. It’s ridiculous. It hurts their cause to perform like this.”
Member Pelan wondered if the zoning board wasn’t duplicating the planning commission’s function?
No, Krumm said. This was the public’s opportunity to be heard.
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