The county has received a siting application for a wind farm just west of Pittsfield, but the proposed 26-turbine facility has several regulatory hoops to jump through first before it can come before the county board for approval.
“The process on it is, it’s a permitted use in an agricultural district for one, but in order to comply with state laws, we have to hold a public hearing, and the county board also has to do a final so it’s kind of like the siting of the landfill but with a lot less hoops,” county Zoning Administrator Mark Mountain said by phone Friday afternoon.
Still, the facility will have to demonstrate compliance with all of the relevant state and federal laws and regulations before it will be ready for a public hearing, according to Mountain.
“Before a public hearing, there has to be an agricultural impact mitigation agreement (AIMA) in place,” Mountain said. “They’re in the process of doing that now.”
An AIMA is an agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture outlining the steps that must be taken during the construction of a project to minimize detrimental impact on agricultural uses of land affected by the project.
AIMA terms often include decompaction of soil, restoration of topsoil to original productivity, control of erosion, and repair of drainage tiling damaged during construction.
Other regulatory agencies the project must satisfy, according to Mountain and State’s Attorney Zachary Boren, with whom Mountain has consulted on the project, include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Trade Commission, and Federal Aviation Administration.
The project is not required to receive approval through the Illinois Commerce Commission, and it will not be given power of eminent domain to take land on which to build, Boren said by phone Friday afternoon.
“It’s not like a power line that goes from Point A to Point B and logically has to have every point in between,” Boren said. “It’s just a series of wind turbines so it’s up to them to enter into agreements with the landowners who agree to host a wind turbine.”
The county will receive assistance in ensuring the applicant’s compliance with state and federal requirements through a third-party review by Patrick Engineering of Springfield and is currently negotiating the scope of that review with Illinois Winds, according to both Boren and Mountain.
“I don’t feel I’m qualified to make sure all the federal and state laws are complied with. I feel it would put the county in liability with just my review,” Mountain said. “I would still do my review, but they would do a professional review.”
Illinois Winds would be responsible for the cost of the third-party review under the ordinance, according to Mountain.
Patrick Engineering assisted the county through the siting approval process for a proposed expansion of Hickory Ridge Landfill that concluded in September and, according to Mountain, is highly experienced with wind facility projects.
“Patrick Engineering has done reviews with a lot of wind facilities up north so they have done it, understand all the terminology and studies,” Mountain said. “There’s a lot to it regarding financial assurance, decommissioning costs, coverage for the county in a worst-case scenario.”
Neither Boren nor Mountain know how long it will take for Illinois Winds to meet state and federal requirements or how long Patrick Engineering’s third-party review will take, but once Boren and Mountain are satisfied the requirements have been met, the county board must have a public hearing on the proposal, both said.
The county ordinance does not specify how far in advance the board must provide public notice of the hearing, but Boren said the county would probably publish notices in the local newspapers during the two weeks preceding the hearing date.
“The only specific stipulation” in state statute “is that the board shall have a public hearing not more than 30 days prior to a siting decision by the county board, and notice of the public hearing must be published in a newspaper of public circulation,” Boren said.
If the county board does not give the siting application an up-or-down vote within 30 days of the public hearing, it will be required under the statute to hold another public hearing no more than 30 days before putting the siting up for a vote, according to Boren.
The city of Pittsfield maintains zoning jurisdiction within 1.5 miles outside its corporate limits and may have some concerns to address prior to the county putting the siting up for a vote, according to Mountain.
“We most generally—we can enforce our stuff within a mile and a half of city limits, but we usually don’t get involved unless it’s going to be detrimental to the city,” Tom Reinhardt, Pittsfield city zoning officer, said by phone Monday morning.
Reinhardt does not yet know whether the city will have any concerns and is awaiting additional information from the county zoning office but said he has discussed the project briefly with the mayor.
Mountain encourages the public to inform themselves about the project and to attend the public hearing once it is announced to voice any concerns.
“If there is someone who has concerns, we want them at the public hearing. It’s going to change the look, and people need to know the possibilities,” Mountain said. “They’re starting with 26 (turbines.) It could expand to 115.”
Mountain noted the company would be required to undergo the siting application process again for any expansion beyond the original 26-turbine plan.
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