The Union Township Trustees voted on Thursday to make Union Township and Champaign County the leading body in Ohio concerning wind turbine zoning regulations.
In a 2-0 vote, the trustees voted to approve the Union Township Zoning Commission’s recommendation to accept its own wind turbine zoning resolution. Trustee President Doug Hurst abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest, making Howard Peters and James Virts the deciding trustees. The two also voted unanimously to approve the commission’s recommendation to reject a zoning proposal crafted by Union Neighbors United.
Not everyone in the audience was as pleased with the cutting-edge decision. During the public participation portion of the hearing, members of UNU voiced an opinion that the trustees should reject both proposals citing that the Logan Union Champaign Regional Planning Commission recommended the zoning commission reject them and wait for a more comprehensive resolution.
In addition to the LUC’s suggestion, UNU Member Diane McConnell brought to the trustees’ attention that the Ohio Wind Working Group will come out with its Recommended Approval Processes and Best Management Practices for the development of wind energy in Ohio.
UNU member Julia Johnson described the OWWG as a group of representatives from academia, agriculture, electric utilities, wind developers manufacturers, unions, the public and the government. She also pointed out that as of 3 p.m. on Thursday there hasn’t been a single objection or comment made within the OWWG in opposition to the group’s guidelines which, as soon as they are approved, will be made public today.
Members of the UNU urged the trustees to reject both proposals to wait for something that has been better researched. “Union Neighbors United has repeatedly asked both the township zoning commission and the township trustees to wait to vote on any proposal until the Ohio Wind Working Group and the Champaign County Wind Study Group come up with a best practices protocol for our area,” said McConnell, adding that the LUC has asked the same thing of the commission and the trustees.
In a prepared statement, UNU stated, “The Union Township Zoning Ordinance adopted tonight is totally inconsistent with OWWG’s proposed standards and their refusal to wait 24 hours is irresponsible.”
At this point, opponents to the trustees’ decision have 30 days to get a signed petition to court to voice their dissatisfaction and UNU has vowed to do just that.
“Union Neighbors United will take this issue to the voters and educate them on the State’s suggested guidelines for the protection of their health, safety and welfare,” UNU stated in its release. “When the residents of the community understand that the adopted wind ordinance disregards best practices for their protection, they will share our concern and the need for action.”
There are four major points of concern the UNU has with the zoning recommendations approved by the trustees.
“The 1,000-foot setback from your home is unsafe and an arbitrary figure with no basis in science,” said McConnell, “while the proposal by the Union Neighbors United of 2,600 feet is the setback recommended by the National Academy of Science in their study on the environmental impact of wind energy projects.”
The fact that there is no noise testing required, either before or after turbine erection, in the zoning commission’s proposal also drew the ire of its opponents.
McConnell said, “Noise is the most often voiced problem of turbines placed too close to homes and there are sleep deprivation and health issues that go along with this.”
The height limit also presented a problem for the UNU. According to McConnell, 500 feet is the height for offshore wind farms and shouldn’t be used on land. The UNU proposal set the height cap at 300 feet.
“Union Neighbors’ proposal suggests 300 feet, which is the height that a prominent landscape engineer employed by wind turbine companies in California recommends,” she said, adding, “He claims that anything over 300 feet cannot be visually reconciled with a rural landscape and therefore becomes visually disturbing.”
The last point of conflict between the UNU and the zoning commission’s recommendations is that the zoning commission has made turbines a permitted use instead of a conditional use. McConnell said that a neighbor who may have health concerns with a turbine being placed on an adjacent property should have the right to protest against it.
Union Township Resident Robin Berry urged the trustees to accept to the proposal created by the zoning commission, reiterating that industrial wind development will help Champaign County.
According to Berry, the turbines will have a positive impact on local residents.
“The wind turbine project proposed for Union Township will have a positive impact that reaches well beyond Union Township,” she said.
She pointed out that the local schools also stand to benefit with tax revenue.
“It will have a positive impact on surrounding villages, towns and cities with materials and manpower needed for the construction period,” she said.
Berry also raised concern about Ohio’s dependence on fossil fuels and said wind energy will help to alleviate that.
The 2,600-foot setback desired by the UNU, wouldn’t help Union Township at all, according to Berry, because it would only allow for one turbine to be placed in the township.
According to Virts and Peters, the news that the Ohio Wind Working Group will be coming out with a comprehensive plane for wind turbines just a day after the public hearing had little impact on their decision to go ahead and accept a set of regulations.
According Virts, the trustees had only found out about OWWG a couple of weeks prior to the hearing, despite the fact that the group has been working on guidelines for more than a year.
If the approved recommendations prove to be off-base with what the OWWG has deemed safe, Peters said the Union Township regulations can be changed later. “If it’s better, we’ll accept it,” he said.
Both trustees expressed that they were not ignorant about the turbines. Virts went on a trip to an Illinois wind farm and Peters had visited the wind development site at Bowling Green.
They said they based their decision on the research presented to them by the UNU and the zoning commission since both sides worked hard on the finding the facts to support their cases.
“There are pros and cons in everything,” said Virts, “just like there are those for and against this and we respect their wishes, but we had to come up with something.”
By Shaun Dunlap
18 January 2008
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