BELVIDERE – Boone County officials, residents and community groups have invested thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours and an unthinkable amount of energy into educating others about a highly-controversial County Board vote that would either clear the way for a wind farm or almost certainly stop the idea in its tracks.
Mainstream Renewable Power has proposed building a $300 million to $400 million wind farm with as many as 100 turbines on 12,000 acres in Manchester and LeRoy townships. The company said the project could generate between $1 million and $2 million a year in property tax revenue for the county, while creating hundreds of construction jobs and high-paying permanent positions for skilled workers.
But dozens of residents have testified about the negative health, safety and economic effects of the proposal.
The County Board voted on amending some wind energy zoning requirements in December 2012, but told the Zoning Board of Appeals to review the distance between wind devices and property lines. The ZBA was supposed to allow one person from each side to testify about evidence to speed up the process.
Nearly a year later, officials aren’t any closer to making a final decision. The earliest it would be made is January.
“If they seemed to have pertinent information, it’s good to let the people hear it,” said Norm Stimes, the ZBA chairman, on his approach to the process this past year.
In fact, the board allowed numerous people from each side to speak, some exceeding the 5-minute time limit, in more than half a dozen meetings devoted to the issue. The hearing still isn’t finished.
“This is an intricate topic. A lot of people have a lot of concerns,” Stimes said. “There was a lot of new information (to consider).”
The delay has resulted in residents and companies investing significant time and money into educating others about Mainstream’s intentions and wind energy as a whole.
Marshall Newhouse, who previously chaired the county’s Planning, Zoning and Building Committee, said his family has spent 30 to 50 hours a week gathering input from residents. Since July, they have worked with other families to collect more than 1,300 signatures from Boone County residents and property owners who disapprove of Mainstream’s plan and favor larger setback distances.
Since Mainstream began the project in August 2009, the company has spent more than $1 million educating the public on wind energy and land acquisition, Vince Green, development project manager said. He said the level of incivility in Boone County is making it difficult though.
Residents say they have been followed home after meetings. Others refuse to attend in fear of harassment that will come from voicing their opinion.
And the public interest in the project has meant daily emails, phone calls and in-person visits to the Belvidere-Boone County Planning Department, Associate Planner Gina DelRose said. The department created a link on the county’s website for testimony and evidence to address some of the questions.
Now that the public comment portion of the hearing finished Nov. 26, the ZBA will discuss the zoning text amendment amongst themselves before taking recommendations to the County Board as early as January.
County Board Chairman Bob Walberg said the lengthy process is worth the wait, especially since the result will have a significant impact on the community.
“Although it seems long, it’s worthwhile. It’s nice to see people engaged and involved in the government. That’s really what makes local government better,” he said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding