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Landing strip nixed for take off

PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board says more information is needed on a request for a conditional use permit by a rural Walnut farmer to build a private grass landing strip on family property.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Marc Wilt addressed the county board, saying the board’s approval of the conditional use permit is the first step in the process of building the landing strip on property which his family has owned since 1933. If local approval is granted, Wilt’s proposal would then be sent to the Illinois Department of Transportation’ Division of Aeronautics, which will determine if the proposal meets all state rules and requirements and if any alterations or changes are needed. The proposal will also be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration for an air space determination. The whole process could take about two years, Wilt said.

In presenting Wilt’s conditional use request to the county board, Zoning Committee Chairman Marsha Lilley said the developers of the proposed Walnut Ridge wind farm did have some concerns about the proposed landing strip, specifically whether the landing strip would interfere with the building of already-permitted wind turbines in that area.

Lilley said the Zoning Committee recommended on a 4 to 3 vote that the county board send Wilt’s conditional use permit request back to the Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals to hear additional testimony on the possible impact of the landing strip.

Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann said the question to be answered is whether or not the proposed landing strip would interfere with the already-permitted use granted by the county board for the wind turbines. Expert testimony from a pilot could tell the committee and board how much land is needed to safely land a private plane.

Bureau County Zoning Officer Kris Donarski read a letter from Bill French, representing the Walnut Ridge developers, expressing his concerns about the location of the proposed landing strip. The county had granted conditional use permits for 150 Walnut Ridge turbines in 2008, with an extension granted in 2011 for another three years. The Walnut Ridge developers do not oppose the landing strip, but the company does have concerns about its location, he said.

In his comments, board member Joe Bassetti said he had no problem with the landing strip if it could be done safely. But since there is a safety question, his recommendation was to send the request back to the Zoning Board of Appeals for further study,

Board member Marshann Entwhistle said Wilt has to start the process with approval by the county board before he can send his proposal to the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration for their review and approval.

If the Walnut Ridge developers determine the landing strip hindered their own project, which has precedence, there could be a lawsuit filed against the county, Herrmann said.

After further discussion, Lilley’s motion to send Wilt’s request back to the Zoning Board of Appeals was approved on a voice vote, though not a unanimous one.