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Number of wind hearings ‘beyond extreme’

DIXON – Lee County’s zoning panel has held 24 hearings on a proposed wind farm. Three more are planned for next week.

The first was July 5. That was more than a month before Mitt Romney chose his vice presidential running mate. Since, Romney lost the election, and President Barack Obama started his new term.

So far, the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals has logged 60 hours of hearings for the wind farm. By comparison, Nicholas Sheley’s Whiteside County murder trial last year took about 40 hours over more than a week.

Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power is asking for special-use permits for 53 turbines in Lee County’s southwestern corner. The turbines would be part of a three-county wind farm.

In August, Whiteside County approved nine turbines after 4 months of hearings. Bureau County held 21 hearings from March to November, but its zoning board rejected the proposal. The company plans to submit a new application.

For previous Lee County wind farms, hearings lasted just one night.

In recent years, however, opposition to wind farms has grown. Residents object to their noise, shadow flicker and appearance. They also worry that companies will abandon turbines eventually, doing nothing to take them down.

Under the county’s procedures, every resident has the right to cross-examine witnesses and give closing statements. The witnesses have included experts on noise and wind turbines’ impact on neighboring property values.

Next week, the zoning board will hold hearings 3 nights in a row, allowing residents to give closing statements. No one is sure whether that will be enough time for all residents to speak.

The zoning board’s hearings are run by retired Whiteside County Judge Tim Slavin. He operates under the board’s procedures, which allow residents much time to question witnesses and make their cases.

One industry expert says 24 hearings for one wind farm is unusually high.

“That’s way beyond extreme, in our experience,” said Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association. “There must be some organized opposition [in Lee County]. I can’t cite a single instance in the last 3 to 5 years that was really contentious.”

The same type of opposition is seen involving proposed electricity transmission lines cutting through Iowa and Illinois, including northern Bureau County.

“The public meetings in Iowa [for the lines] are absolutely tame compared to those in Illinois,” Prior said.

In Illinois, many residents near the proposed route for the lines have put up signs in protest.

Franklin Grove Village President Bob Logan, who regularly attends zoning board meetings, said the panel may be among the best educated in Illinois.

“I don’t know where a zoning board has been presented so much information,” Logan said. “Very rarely would you find that level of expert witnesses come to hearings.”

After the zoning board makes a recommendation on the wind farm, the Lee County Board will have the final say.

To attend

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon. Each 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 and transcripts from past meetings, or more information, go to www.leecountyil.com or call 815-288-5676.