DIXON – Ornate box turtles are homebodies. So if a proposed wind farm is built in southwestern Lee County, the species would stick around.
On Wednesday, an expert told the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals that the wind farm could hurt the turtle, which the state listed as a threatened species in 2009.
The turtle is in much of the same area as the wind farm proposed by Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power. Its habitat is sand prairie; it is now in only a few places in Illinois, said Keith Shank, an official with the state Department of Natural Resources.
Some years ago, ornate box turtles were moved from Nebraska to Wisconsin. They had to be penned because they kept trying to go back to Nebraska, Shank said.
“They hibernate 7 months a year. They are a cryptic species,” Shank said. “Most of our records on them are based on road kills. That’s how we know they’re in an area. It’s not often that you come across them.”
The turbines’ shadow flicker could cause turtles to stay underground longer, reducing the amount of time during the day that the species is looking for food.
“Without enough to eat, they are not as healthy,” Shank said. “That could constitute harassment, which is prohibited by law.”
The noise and vibrations from turbines could interfere with the turtles’ mating ritual, which involves grunting, he said. That could result in fewer births.
The turbines also could affect other species, including the plains hognose snake, Shank said.
“The [plains hognose snake] is the natural enemy of the turtle because it eats turtle eggs,” he said. “We have to protect both of them. They do share the same habitat.”
To deal with the effects, Shank advised that Mainstream adjust its turbine operating schedule accordingly or choose sites with the species in mind.
Shank, who was called to testify by the Lee County state’s attorney’s office, has prepared reports for the three counties in the Mainstream project – Lee, Whiteside and Bureau.
Last summer, Whiteside County approved nine of Mainstream’s proposed turbines. Shank never testified in Whiteside County, but his report became a centerpiece of the county’s public hearings. Greg Wahl, the CEO of Wahl Clipper Corp. in Sterling, who owns a natural prairie in the project area, protested the plan and hired an attorney, who called environmental witnesses to testify.
In Bureau County, Mainstream withdrew its proposal after the county’s zoning board rejected the company’s proposal. Mainstream says it will resubmit a new plan based on Bureau County’s concerns.
Despite turbines’ effects on species, Shank said at Wednesday’s hearing, wind farms are preferred over other forms of energy generation.
“As far as we’re concerned, wind energy is the most environmentally benign on the environment. All forms of energy generation have an impact; there is no free lunch,” he said.
Under questioning from attorney Rick Porter, who is representing residents fighting the wind farm, Shank confirmed he was aware that Mainstream was planning to take no measures to mitigate the harm to the ornate box turtle and the plains hognose snake.
In Lee County, the zoning board has been holding hearings on the proposed wind farm since July. Once testimony is completed, the panel will vote on the proposal, along with conditions. Then the matter will go to the Lee County Board, which has the final say.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet from 7 to 9:30 p.m. today on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St.
The board is having hearings on Mainstream Renewable Power's proposal for 53 wind turbines in southwestern Lee County.
For an agenda for these meetings, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.leecountyil.com or call 815-288-5676.