Alliant seeks goats for noxious plant problem in Town of Beloit

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BDN file photo This photo shows construction crews work on the West Riverside Energy Center in mid-January. Alliant Energy is seeking a permit amendment from the Town of Beloit to allow goats to get rid of noxious plants at a portion of its site. The town's Planning Commission will review the amendment on Wednesday.

BELOIT ­­- Goats are how Alliant Energy hopes to take care of its invasive and noxious plant problem at its power plant site in the Town of Beloit.

Alliant hopes to bring in a herd of 80 to 100 goats to eat some weeds on about eight acres of land near the southeast portion of the site near the Rock River, project manager Bob Newell said.

Since the Alliant site is zoned as light industrial, zoning laws prohibit any animals on the property. Newell said Alliant is seeking a conditional use permit amendment. The Town of Beloit Planning Commission will review Alliant's application during a meeting at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday at Beloit Town Hall, 2871 S. Afton Road. The town's Board of Supervisors will then vote on the amendment at a future meeting.

If the town board approves the permit amendment, Alliant likely will have the goats graze for the first time in late September or early October.

Newell said this is a way for Alliant to control or eliminate the noxious plants without the use of chemicals.

"This is a more environmentally sustainable way to do it, so we thought we would give it a try," Newell said.

Alliant plans to have the goats come out for a two year period while the West Riverside Energy Center is under construction. Once the energy facility is operational he said it would be up to the plant operators to decide whether or not to continue using the goats.

The goat idea came from one of the environmental managers from Alliant's general contractor, who found an article about using goats to get rid of invasive weeds, Newell said.

Alliant would be working with an individual contractor, who Newell said would bring the goats out two to three times per year for a 10-14 day period each time.

Newell said a fence will keep goats in four designated areas and out of the river and wetlands. He adds the areas are difficult to get to with mowers.

Goats also have a narrow, triangular mouth that allows them to crush what they eat. This means when the seeds are digested and exit the body they don't replant themselves.

"If it was a different animal (the seeds) could come out the other end and start the process over again," Newell said. "That's why goats are great for this specific application. Not only that, but they'll eat anything out there."

Once invasive and noxious plant species have been controlled or eliminated, the woodland areas will be over seeded with native woodland plant species.

This will further eliminate the spread of unwanted species while restoring a portion of the Rock River's bank to its natural state, Alliant's amendment application states.

The herd will be allowed to graze targeted plants ­- including garlic mustard, buckthorn and honeysuckle ­- and will clear the plants at a rate of between 150 to 300 square feet per day per goat, the application states.

"It's not in an area being used for construction," Newell said. "It's just part of the property that needs to be maintained for noxious weeds."

Work on the West Riverside Energy Center is slightly over 50 percent complete. Crews will start a small night shift of about 15 members on Sept. 17 to work on piping through the end of year. Newell said the crew likely will grow to about 50 people. He said most of the concrete work is complete, and crews hope to have all of the major buildings enclosed before winter.

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