Editor’s note: The following guest editorial exceeds the Bureau County Republican’s word limit for letters to the editor. Therefore, the BCR will offer a guest editorial opportunity to someone with an opposing view. Call BCR Editor Terri Simon at 815-875-4461, ext. 6330, before submitting.
After 40 days of hearings, the Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) recommended denial of all of the 127 applications of Walnut Ridge Wind LLC (WRW) to build industrial wind turbines. The ZBA considered the testimony of dozens of witnesses and experts on the impacts of such turbines. Six different people who live near projects in Illinois and Wisconsin testified the turbines cause extreme noise, flickering shadows, vibration and sleep deprivation. They suffered from symptoms commonly known as Wind Turbine Syndrome which involves feelings of motion sickness and vertigo. Three of the families abandoned their dream homes to escape the turbines.
An expert testified that neighbors will sustain up to a 50 percent loss in the value of their property. Nonetheless, WRW refuses to site turbines away from people’s homes nor will it agree to any property value protection plan. The ZBA unanimously found “the applicant has not produced sufficient evidence that the project will not diminish residential property values along the footprint.”
The ZBA unanimously found “the applicant’s project does not comply with the noise regulations at the property lines as established by the Illinois Pollution Control Board and the Bureau County ordinance.” Two experts testified the data also showed the project will violate the maximum allowable noise levels at hundreds of homes.
Likewise, hundreds of homes in the area will be subjected to many hours of the strobe like effect caused by the shadows of the huge turning blades. The ZBA found WRW failed to design the project “to minimize shadow flicker,” and there was evidence that strobe effect can be particularly detrimental to children and adults with epilepsy, autism or those prone to motion sickness.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources warned Bureau County the project is proposed to be built in an area containing several endangered species protected by both federal and state laws. Nonetheless, WRW refuses to move the project to avoid the endangered species or turn-off or curtail turbines as recommended by IDNR. Therefore, the ZBA unanimously found “the applicant has not produced sufficient evidence that the project would not affect endangered species native to the area.”
The evidence also showed the turbine company underestimated the cost to tear down the $400 million project by over $32 million, and the ZBA found “the decommissioning information presented (by the applicant) was insufficient.”
A petition was presented by 245 people who own land in the footprint that oppose the project which is three times as many who favor the project. The only response by the turbine company to the overwhelming public opposition was to argue the project will create tax revenue. However, the law which allows the turbines to be taxed as real estate expires on Dec. 31, 2016. When the law expires, companies like WRW will argue turbines are actually personal property and not real estate resulting in no tax revenue.
The ZBA also found “the applicant did not produce sufficient evidence that the project would not be adverse to … restricted landing areas in the neighborhood.” Indeed there are several private air strips within short distances of the proposed 500-foot turbines causing dangers to pilots and the public.
The ZBA explicitly found the standards for granting the permits had not been met and to the contrary, the turbines “would be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, moral, comfort, or general welfare.” Further, the turbines “would be injurious to the use and enjoyment of those who own property in the footprint of the project and would have a negative impact on their property values” and “will impede the normal and orderly development of the surrounding property.”
The ZBA ultimately voted to recommend the county board “not approve any of the 127 requested conditional use permits.” Objectors’ attorney Rick Porter says: “The citizens of Bureau County hope and trust that the county board will listen to the ZBA who spent hundreds of hours studying the evidence and testimony and respect their findings of fact and recommendations. It would be improper for a county board member, who did not attend the public hearings, to supplant his or her own opinion.”
Barb Amrein on behalf of the Informed Farmers Coalition