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Test tower permits and zoning issues In Lafayette
meterological tower
This photo is from March 2017 when a helicopter helped put a meteorlogical tower up in Seymour Township. - photo by Kayla Barnes

LAFAYETTE COUNTY – The Lafayette County Planning & Zoning Committee met Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 - 5:00 p.m. at the Multi-Purpose Building with virtual options available to attend the meeting. The meeting was chaired by Carmen McDonald.

The first two items on the agenda were asking for a conditional use permit for locating a meteorological tower in the Towns of Elk Grove and Kendall. The application request was made by Pattern Energy Development (PED). The zoning office statement for both permits was that they are not against it.

The first tower to be considered is in Elk Grove, Jacob Engelke is the land owner where the tower would be built.

Phillip Ross of PED made a statement, “We have gone through this process recently with Iowa County and have had no issues. What we want to do is put up a wind measuring tower for a relatively short term. No roads would be needed, we truck the towers to existing paths and it takes about a day to put them up. They are unobstructive and they collect data for us.”

County Board Chair Jack Sauer said, “We have had these before, the last time there were 50% against and 50% for. But for a lot of these townships and land owners, if windmills come to fruition, it’s a good way to get some extra money in and also the county.”

McDonald asked for public input. There was no opposition or in-favor comments from the public. Committee discussion was asked for.

Committee member Eric Stauffacher said, “These towers are only to measure the wind and since we don’t have any neighbors here opposing it, I don’t see an issue.”

Committee member Larry Ludlum said, “There’s already one of these in Kendall Township. Can they take advantage of the resources that that tower has already created?”

Sauer said, “This is for Elk Grove right now and those towers are owned by a different company and I don’t think they would share their information.”

Ian Evans of PED said, “We do have towers up in other areas and we do take advantage of that information. The more of these we put up, the more precisely we can identify where the wind resource would be best.”

Ludlum asked, “Are you relying on the big transmission line that seems to be an issue?”

Evans answered, “To be clear – we don’t have anything to do with that transmission line. We would take advantage of it, if it were to come online. That would enable us to build out a larger project and use the resource that is plentiful in the area. If the line didn’t come online, we would check out options and see if there is another way to make this project work. Even though we have no stake in that project itself, it would allow us to fully realize the project we have in development now.”

Ludlum said, “I was told that if this transmission doesn’t come through, there would be no way you could have any more windmills. I was told you were very dependent on this transmission line.”

Ross said, “It depends on how a couple of projects in the area wind up being developed or not. All the transmission capacity on the existing system is reserved. Hypothetically, if the other project doesn’t get built, there would be a small bit of capacity available. We could do a much smaller version of this project.”

The public hearing was closed by McDonald.

Committee member Andy Schilling made a motion to approve conditional use permit for PED to construct a meteorological tower in Elk Grove. Stauffacher seconded the motion. On voice vote the motion was approved. This will not need to go before the county board.

The second permit for Kendall Township was considered next.

Ross said, “This is the exact same story as the Elk Grove permit in a slightly different area. The land owner on which the tower would be located is Laverne  Russell.

Mark Rehmstedt, Chair of the Town of Kendall had a statement, “I’m looking for additional information, PED called in to our meeting and talked to us. Can you tell us how many megawatts are you looking at for each turbine?”

Evans answered, “To be clear the tower’s that we’re requesting measure wind speed, they don’t produce power. In terms of what megawatt capacity potential technology we would consider installing further down the line, it is too early for us to tell what’s available.”

Rehmstedt brought up an environmental map (that appeared in the Platteville Journal) that he had sent to PED. Evans stated the map he received from Rehmstedt was outdated and incorrect.

Nothing else was heard from the public. The public hearing was closed.

Stauffacher made a motion to approve conditional use permit for PED to construct a meteorological tower in Kendall Township. Schilling seconded the motion. On voice vote the motion was approved. This will not need to go before the county board.

Ross and Evans thanked the committee and virtually left the meeting.

Zoning Permits

Zoning permits were discussed at length. The zoning administrator position held by Terry Loeffelholtz, was separated from the county. The Republican Journal has no further ‘on the record’ information on that situation.

Max Blackbourn, Lafayette County Conservation Technician, has been doing his own job as well as filling in as the unofficial zoning administrator until someone can be hired to fill the position.

Blackbourn, who admittedly said he has no experience in zoning, approved one zoning permit that he felt fairly confident that there shouldn’t be any hang-ups.

Blackbourn said, “Some of these other ones going forward, I’d rather not sign off on them until I know I have proper authority. Does anyone know about that?”

Sauer said, “I talked to corporate council and I was more confused when I left him. I’m not sure where my next step will go. Maybe I’ll contact someone in Grant or Iowa County to see what the real next step is.”

McDonald asked, “How fast do these (permits) have to be done?”

Blackbourn said, “There are several people that want to get going. They can’t do anything legally until we issue these permits. There are three additions, one new house construction and someone in Argyle Township putting in two cabins, this one might want a conditional use permit or getting rezoned, since these are rental cabins.

Sauer said, “Gleason’s was approved here, shouldn’t you be able to sign off on that one?”

Blackbourn: “I don’t know if I have the authority. I haven’t looked at the ordinance, but I believe the only one that has the authority is the planning and zoning manager and I’m technically not that.”

Schilling asked, “Can the committee give Max temporary authority until we get the position filled?”

Sauer: “Would you be comfortable with that Max?”

Blackbourn: “I’ll try my best. I’m not too worried about most of these. The one with the cabins, I’m going to have to do some research to see if she needs to do a rezone as well. It seems like a business.”

Schilling made a motion that Max be given the authority to issue those five permits (excluding the cabins).  Motion was approved.

In other business:

•Mark Kieler made a public comment, “I was at the meeting when Planning & Zoning approved an Amish cemetery. My dad was in a study at Mayo Clinic and one of the contributing factors to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s was living within three miles of old cemetery’s, where they never buried the deceased in vaults. The Amish don’t bury their deceased in vaults. So when you approve Amish cemetery’s, you’re putting everyone who live within three miles at jeopardy.”

Sauer said, “I’m guessing we don’t have any ordinances regarding type of burials, we should check other counties to see if they have vault requirements.”

•A floodplain zoning ordinance amendment was approved for the Hutchinson Dam in the Town of Kendall. The property below the dam belongs to Mark Steffes. This will need county board approval.

•Corporate Council Nathan Russell had a conflict of interest in regard to a failing septic system issue in the county.

The committee was trying to determine what to do in a case of attorney conflict of interest.

Ludlum asked if a second attorney could be authorized in cases like this.

Sauer volunteered to contact Ralph Farrell and/or Robert Duxstad to deal with the septic system problem.

A motion to that effect was approved.

•Townships with non-conforming zoning issues. Two deeds are in violation. It was suggested to leave this alone until a new zoning administrator is hired.

•Blackbourn gave his Land Conservation report. It included a report of an Amish piling 4” hard pack manure around a well cap to make a garden. Blackbourn noted that Lafayette County doesn’t have a well ordinance, so there isn’t any authority to change the situation.

Blackbourn said, “Maybe with some outreach, stuff like that doesn’t happen, because that is concerning.”

•McDonald brought up a property in Gratiot Township where two properties share a driveway and there are issues. The township will not act on the problem because the property is under an acre.

•Paid vouchers at $3,604.

•Future agenda items include: Union Grove Cemetery in Darlington is adding plots; West Wiota Lutheran Cemetery is adding plots.