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Most findings of zoning panel favor wind farm

Board: No significant impact on home values

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

DIXON – A proposed wind farm in southwestern Lee County would not have a significant impact on nearby residential property values, the county’s zoning panel decided Wednesday.

If the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals had determined a significant impact, it could have paved the way for some type of compensation to neighbors.

Member Bruce Forester said the greatest value in the area of the proposed project is farmland.

“I don’t see how [the wind farm] will have a great impact on the value of land,” he said. “Some landowners will be people who will gain value by having windmills on their farm.”

Members Tom Fassler and Craig Buhrow disagreed, with Fassler citing an appraiser’s testimony that property values could drop by up to 40 percent.

“I think that is significant,” Fassler said.

Fassler proposed the finding that Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power’s proposed 53-turbine wind farm would significantly impact residential property values.

By a 3-2 vote, the board rejected his finding, with Forester, Gene Bothe and Mike Pratt against and Fassler and Buhrow in favor.

They later approved a motion that the wind farm could “possibly impact” nearby property values. The vote was unanimous.

The board also approved a finding that the wind farm wouldn’t have a significant impact on drainage in the area.

Pratt, who proposed the finding, said the company assured the county that it would take care of drainage problems when they arise.

But Fassler and Buhrow said they feared a wind project would hurt nearby farms.

“I think this particular project has more of an issue with drainage than any of the other projects in Lee County because of the elevation and because of the slope of the ground in that particular township,” Fassler said. “I think that this could be a real issue.”

An improperly built wind farm road, he said, could back up water on 1,000 acres.

The board voted along the same lines – members Pratt, Forester and Bothe in favor and Fassler and Buhrow against.

The board also approved a determination that the project would not substantially impact wildlife and threatened species.

Fassler was the only member to vote against the finding. He proposed the board approve 57 recommendations from a state official who examined the possible impacts of the wind farm on threatened species.

No one seconded his proposal.

In at least one instance, the board, in a 3-2 vote, did approve a finding that could be seen as acting against the wind farm’s interests. Members determined the project would significantly impact nearby aerial spraying.

Fassler, Buhrow and Bothe approved the finding, while Pratt and Forester were against.

In February, the board ended its hearings on Mainstream’s proposal. The board met 27 times.

Now, the board must decide whether to approve the wind farm, establishing the findings of fact and conditions for the turbines if they approve them.

During the first part of the meeting, officials established the ground rules.

Buhrow, the board’s acting chairman, relinquished his position. In his place, Tim Slavin, a retired Whiteside County judge, will run the meetings, but not vote on issues.

Slavin, who had served as facilitator during the hearings, read the new rules. One of them required board members to stand up when they make motions.

The decision-making process, like the earlier hearings, could be lengthy. Eight more meetings are scheduled, if needed. The next one is tonight.

The Lee County Board will have the final say on the project.

Mainstream’s proposal is part of a three-county wind farm, which includes Whiteside and Bureau counties. Last year, Whiteside County approved nine turbines, while Bureau County’s zoning panel recommended against Mainstream’s plan for 19 turbines, saying it didn’t meet the county’s requirements.

Mainstream withdrew its proposal in Bureau County, saying it planned to submit a new one.

Public invited

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. today in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St.

The board will begin the decision-making process on the proposed Mainstream Renewable Power wind farm.

If needed, other meetings are scheduled for the same time and place Friday, April 23, 24, 25, 26, 29 and 30.

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