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A bad night for wind company

Panel points to noise, flicker issues

DIXON – If Lee County’s zoning board had a script Thursday, it wasn’t from the wind energy industry.

For the second night in a row, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved findings of fact for a controversial proposed wind farm in southwestern Lee County. About 35 people attended.

For past wind projects, the board approved proposed findings from the companies themselves. In recent years, though, opposition to wind farms has grown. Because of that, the board is taking its time to carefully consider findings and conditions for the 53 turbines planned by Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power.

In a 4-1 vote, with member Bruce Forester dissenting, the board found that Mainstream’s petition didn’t sufficiently protect neighbors from shadow flicker. And members unanimously ruled that the proposed setbacks weren’t enough to mitigate the problem.

Twenty-three homes in the project area would have more than 10 hours of shadow flicker a year, member Mike Pratt said.

“That’s proof enough they haven’t done enough to mitigate shadow flicker,” he said.

The board also unanimously approved findings that the wind farm would affect the visual features of the horizon, may affect the health of some people, will exceed noise regulation limits at some property lines, and likely damage existing roads.

As for the health issues associated with turbines, member Tom Fassler said, “they’re not going to make everyone sick. I live around them, and they don’t make me sick. They bother some people. I feel sorry for those people they do affect.”

The board also decided to back recommendations from the state Department of Natural Resources to create a 1-mile buffer around the state’s Foley Sand Prairie Natural Preserve and a half-mile buffer around other natural areas.

In another finding, the board recognized that Hamilton Township, where most of the turbines are planned, has a comprehensive plan that calls for turbines to be 2,000 feet away from the property lines of nonparticipating landowners.

Members didn’t say whether they would honor that setback. The county’s wind energy ordinance has no setback requirement, but the zoning board has traditionally required turbines be at least 1,400 feet away from homes, as opposed to property lines.

The board meets again tonight.

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 April 23, 24, 25, 26, 29 and 30.

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