OGLETOWN – Three 300-foot-tall test towers have been erected on a sprawling tract of Berwind Corp. woodland spanning parts of Ogle and Shade townships.
For the Illinois company that added them, its a necessary precursor to a possible Shaffer Mountain wind farm.
To Joseph J. Cominsky, it’s an act of war.
For more than five years, the Paint Township man was the most vocal opponent of Gamesa’s ultimately unsuccessful plan to build a wind farm on the Berwind tract that borders the Ogle Township farmland his family has owned for generations.
“We defeated the plan last time,” Cominsky said. “But there’s an old saying that if you break the back of a snake and don’t cut off the head, it can come back and bite you.
This time a new company, Chicago-based wind, solar and natural gas project developer Invenergy, is studying the prospect of adding wind turbines on the land.
Cominsky and a group of wind farm opponents were able to fend off Gamesa’s wind farm plans last time because of Shaffer Mountain’s pristine wilderness and its ecosystem, which has served as a flight path for Indiana bats.
But that defense has disintegrated in recent months because Berwind hired a company to thin out thousands of acres of cherry, oak and other hardwood trees, he told a group of Ogle Township residents Monday.
“The area is decimated,” he argued. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Cominsky attended the township supervisors meeting to urge the board to bolster their current windmill ordinance before any plans for a farm are submitted.
Supervisor Harvey Weyandt Jr. said the township’s solicitor, John Gibson, is looking into the matter.
But as of Monday, he hadn’t drafted recommendations – and the board wasn’t in a position to act without being sure any changes they would approve would hold up in court if challenged.
“We could adopt 5-mile setbacks, but if it (gets overruled) in court, we won’t have a leg to stand on,” Weyandt said.
That answer frustrated several township residents who pushed the board to act faster.
But supervisors responded that there’s no law they could enact to stop a farm, only regulate the location of turbines near surrounding properties.
“We can already do that now,” Weyandt said, referring to the township’s 2007 ordinance.
The document requires all turbines to be a specific distance from the nearest occupied building, and separately, property line.
With buildings, the distance must be five times the turbine’s hub height – or, for example, 1,500 feet if it extends 300 feet off the ground.
For property lines, it’s two times the hub height – or 600 feet – using the same example.
Invenergy officials couldn’t immediately be reached Monday night for comment.
The company describes itself as an innovative, socially responsible company, according to its website.
The company’s closest wind farm appears to be a 16.2-megawatt site just north of Interstate 86 in Jasper, New York.
No plans have been filed at any level to show if the company intends to develop a farm on the Berwind’s land.
What the company has obtained is a county permit to operate three 60-meter-tall meteorological towers on the site to test measure wind speed, direction and other data, county planner Bill Lehman said.
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