CLINTON — The county’s land use committee meeting, held virtually on Monday, was again dominated by the Alta Farms wind energy project and, now, the county board’s newest preoccupation, its solar energy ordinance.
The public comment portion of Monday’s meeting drew questions from Betsy Shifflet, an opponent of the wind project, about whether activity currently underway by Enel Energy and its contractor White Construction had met building permit requirements.
Interim zoning administrator Dee Rentmeister said so far it had.
Shifflet also asked if it was acceptable for “agricultural” and “commercial” uses both to be circled on the building permit application form.
“Unfortunately, sometimes the permit (application) confuses people,” Rentmeister said.
“But it’s actually asking for the use, and that’s why the commercial side was circled, because the use is a commercial use,” she said.
Rentmeister said the application would be charged as a commercial use, “because agricultural is exempt from any fees.”
She said applicants are often confused about what they should circle, “so that’s why we go back and circle commercial.”
Another opponent of the wind project, Elizabeth Burns addressed other issues.
Burns asked why no one with Cummins Engineering, Enel Energy or the county caught mistakes in an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) permit required for work on the Alta Farms lay-down site, the staging area for the wind project.
Land use committee member Aaron Kammeyer interrupted Burns at this point.
“Are you asking the county to also be enforcing EPA regulations,” Kammeyer asked.
Burns said in the chapter of the county ordinance she was citing, “that is supposed to be part of all applications.”
“Are you now offering that the county zoning office should be an expert in EPA,” Kammeyer asked.
Burns responded, “What I’m saying is, part of the application, which this is being built on to protect the county, you are supposed to have all these applications …”
Kammeyer interrupted Burns again.
“I just want to know who’s accountable,” Kammeyer said. “Because, what I’ve heard in the last week is that the county is supposed to be EPA, Soil & Water, building inspection, everything in the book,” he said. “We only are accountable for zoning; we’re not accountable for whether they’re following EPA regulations. That’s the EPA’s department.”
Burns began to speak as Kammeyer again interrupted.
“If you are going to continue to interrupt me, I will not be able to finish,” Burns said.
Burns and Kammeyer agreed to communicate through email about the issue.
In other business, committee chairman Terry Ferguson said he thought a brief review of the county’s commercial solar energy ordinance was warranted.
A solar energy conversion company is proposing a large solar energy project to be located near Weldon. Company representatives expect to apply for a special use permit and be ready for public hearings by the end of the summer.
Ferguson said in general, the county’s solar ordinance appeared good except for the fee structure applied to the level of power potentially produced by the project. Committee members discussed how to arrive at a proper fee per megawatt that did not appear arbitrary.
Ferguson said it also could be important to have the project developer reroute mutual, or shared, agricultural drainage tiles around the project to avoid possible damage to the tiles and improve access for repairs.