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Lee County Board approves wind farm project

DIXON – The state’s first wind farm will also be the first to decommission its entire fleet of turbines and replace about them with larger, more efficient models.

Lee County Board members approved the Mendota Hills Wind Farm project Tuesday after it was introduced about 2 months ago and sent to the county zoning board for a recommendation.

The zoning board gave its blessing for the project Sept. 27 after going through about 10 hours of testimony, public comment and discussion spread across a few weeks.

The wind farm, owned by Dallas-based Leeward Renewable Energy, has operated with a deficit for at least 4 years and plans to uproot its 63 turbines and build 27 to 34 upgraded towers.

In addition to increasing the farm’s viability, the project could also generate an extra $550,000 in property tax revenue for the county.

The project includes expanding the 13-year-old wind farm’s footprint to allow the new turbines to be more spaced out, but the location of two of the towers caused concern for the privately owned, publicly used Bresson Airport in Compton.

Airport Manager Mark Bresson said the turbines would be too close to pilots’ flight patterns, about a football field’s distance from the plane to the towers, which could present a safety risk.

“I’ve been flying for 50 years, and I know this is going to create a hazard,” he said.

The closeness could also unnerve student pilots or deter them from receiving instruction at the airport, he added.

Board member Greg Witzleb said they shouldn’t move forward with the proposal until Leeward and Bresson reach an agreement where the turbines wouldn’t encroach on airport traffic or until the Federal Aviation Administration weighs in on the matter.

“I really don’t think we can do anything until we get a definitive answer regarding the safety issue that Mr. Bresson presented to us, because he’s talking about student pilots, inexperienced pilots,” he said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Klahn said the board would not be able to table the proposal because the zoning board’s recommendation needed to be approved or rejected within 30 days of Sept. 27.

The county board either had to make a decision or send the proposal back to the zoning board, which board member Allyn Buhrow said would just be a method to “buy time.”

“I would be in favor of approving a complete project, not a moving target, and this is a moving target,” board member Rick Humphrey said.

A vote to send the proposal back to zoning narrowly failed by a vote of 11-9.

Leeward asset manager Chris Green agreed to reach an arrangement with Bresson through which the turbines would be moved so they wouldn’t impede the flight path.

The board approved the proposal 18-2.

Decommissioning the existing turbines and building the new models could began as early as May or June, with the turbines becoming operational in October 2017.