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County board could decide the fate of Walnut Ridge

PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board has crucial agenda items to discuss and possibly take action on at its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Under the zoning committee report, the board is expected to review several items related to the Walnut Ridge Wind Farm.

According to the board’s agenda, action could be taken on the decommissioning and site restoration plan agreement for Walnut Ridge, conditions for the Walnut Ridge conditional use and on the application for 127 conditional use permits for Walnut Ridge.

The Walnut Ridge Wind Farm includes the construction and operation of a wind power facility located in Ohio, Walnut, Greenville, Manlius and Bureau townships.

As previously reported, of the 127 conditional use permits, the Bureau County Regional Planning Commission recommended the approval of 119 and denied 8 permits.

The matter was then turned over to the Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals, which recommended denial of all 127 conditional use permits in December. The zoning board of appeals, however, did grant 55 variations and denied six variations that BHE Renewables had requested for the project.

It took about 11 months for the matter to go through the Bureau County Regional Planning Commission and the Bureau County Board of Appeals. At the meetings, testimony was heard from both local and non-local individuals either opposing or in favor of the Walnut Ridge Wind Farm.

The county board will now have the final say in whether or not to grant the 127 conditional use permits for the wind farm project.

While it’s unknown how the county board will vote, the board has been known to vote against recommendations given by the planning commission and the zoning board of appeals.

The board may also take action on granting an extension for Walnut Ridge Wind Farm for installation of one substation, one staging area, 99 power poles and an associated transmission line in Walnut and Ohio Townships.

As previously reported, back in 2008 when the county board granted conditional use permits for Walnut Ridge, the applicant had three years to get a building permit for the project.

After three years, no one had applied for that building permit, however, an extension was requested. The extension was to run out on Dec. 31, 2014, but right before Geronimo Wind Energy, who was the current owner of the project, filed a request for another extension.

Five months later the wind farm project was sold to BHE Renewables who amended the request for the extension and did not seek to extend conditional use for the wind turbines, but only for the substation, staging area, transmission lines and transmission line support poles.

The extension request also went before the zoning board of appeals, where it was recommended it be denied.

Again, the county board will have the last say in whether or not to allow an extension request of the 2008 conditional use permits that were extended in 2011 and requested again in 2014.

Several people are expected to speak during the public comment at Tuesday night’s meeting, which will be called to order at 6:30 p.m. in the Bureau County Courthouse. There are 13 people on the agenda to speak on the matter. Because of the number of requests, speaking time will be limited to five minutes.