PRINCETON – Can wind turbines and a private rural, grass airstrip coexist?
After more than 30 minutes of discussion, Bureau County Board voted Tuesday to send resident Marc Wilt back to the county zoning board of appeals with his request to create a sod landing strip near 1600 East Street and 2700 North Avenue southeast of Walnut.
Wilt said getting approval is likely to take up to two years. He needs a conditional use permit from the county board. After that, he needs Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics to study and approve his plans, and the Federal Aviation Administration would need to approve after that.
The county planning commission and zoning board of appeals had approved of the plans, and Bureau Valley school district had not objected.
However, when the county board zoning committee received the plans, it received an objection from Walnut Ridge Wind Farm and a reminder from the wind farm developers that one of their turbines already has a permit for construction not far from the proposed airstrip.
Prior to Tuesday, the county board zoning committee voted 4-3 to advise the county board to send the issue back to the zoning board of appeals. Bureau County State’s Attorney Pat Herrmann said the zoning board of appeals had not received some of the testimony from Walnut Ridge that it may need to consider, and he also said the zoning board of appeals should hear from a pilot or expert on airports and the proximity of transmission lines and turbines.
“If they can coexist, (that’s) wonderful,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann said he is not an expert, so he doesn’t know if there’s cause for concern if a turbine would be 458 feet from one end of the airstrip and a 90-foot-high transmission line would be 1,500 feet from the airstrip. County board health committee chairman Loretta Volker said she also would want to know if there would be any concern about a “wake effect” or disturbance of the air from turbines.
Board member Derek Whited (R-Princeton) said he has been a pilot and doesn’t think he sees a problem with Wilt’s plans, and he said a lot of people already are landing small planes on existing airstrips not far from turbines. Whited suggested the board simply approve the conditional use and allow the Division of Aeronautics to decide.
Marsha Lilley said the board needed more information “so we don’t get sued again.”
The board decided, in a split vote without a roll call, to send the issue back to the ZBA to consider further evidence and testimony.
In other business, the board:
* Gave permission for Princeton Duck Club to use the board room March 11 for its annual meeting. Also, the board granted permission for Princeton Optimists Club to use the park lawn and courthouse front lawn for an Easter egg hunt March 30.
* Board member Kristi Warren said despite repairs to stop leaks into the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the park east of the courthouse, it is leaking again. She said a bucket that was half full of water a few days ago had more water in it a couple of days ago. The people who did the work before will make an inspection at no cost and report findings.
* Approved a conditional use permit for Kasbeer Farmers’ Elevator Co. to build two grain bins, conveyors and a dryer.
* Approved Heartland Bank & Trust as account holder for decommissioning funds for Big Sky Wind, $1.8 million.
* Agreed to accept an offer lowering the bill of attorney Melissa Sims for this month to about $13,000. Sims is representing the county in a case involving a personnel and discipline issue in the sheriff’s office that may go to the Illinois Supreme Court.
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