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Bureau County zoning board overruled; Wind farm OK’d

PRINCETON – The Zoning Board of Appeals said no.

The Bureau County Board didn’t listen, and with few exceptions, said a resounding yes to the Walnut Ridge Wind LLC proposed wind farm in Ohio, Walnut Greenville, Manlius and Bureau townships.

Walnut Ridge had asked for 127 conditional-use permits to construct a 225-megawatt wind farm, with 123 wind turbines spanning about 14,000 acres. The Bureau County Regional Zoning and Planning Commission had found that most of the applications were in line with the county’s comprehensive plan, with the exception of eight turbines.

After their findings, the commission sent the applications to the zoning board of appeals, which held approximately 40 public hearings, before deciding to recommend the county board turn down the entire project.

At Tuesday evening’s board meeting, after hearing from 12 people, 10 of whom were people living in or around the footprint of the wind farm and who were against the project, the board voted on the conditional-use permits.

The permits were broken down into 12 groups of 10 towers, one group of three towers and a group that included an operations facility, two substations, and a temporary staging area.

The board voted to approve all the conditional use permits, with the exception of nine wind turbines.

The wind turbines denied were numbers 76, 89,108,109,112, 113, 124, 128 and 155, all of which would have affected the restricted landing areas – airplane landing strips – of Mark Wilt or Kurt Geldean.

All approved and denied votes were majority votes with an abstention by board member Robert Albrecht (D-Ohio).

Albrecht said after the meeting he would be a likely participant in the wind farm and abstained so there would be no appearance of bias.

In addition to voting to allow the 118 permits, the board also allowed an extension for Walnut Ridge Wind LLC to install a substation, staging area, 99 power poles and a transmission line in Walnut and Ohio townships.

Along with the approval, the board also set 12 conditions – including a way to tax the turbines if current state law expires, that was added at the meeting – that would apply to the building of the turbines, and agreed to a decommissioning and site restoration plan with Walnut Ridge.

The long meeting, held in the courtroom, drew more than 50 people who slowly filed out as it became apparent that most of the turbines would be approved.