About a year after the possibility of an Ellis County wind farm divided the community, there was talk of compromise at Wednesday’s planning and zoning commission meeting.
As part of a process to review and possibly revamp zoning regulations, the board heard from residents who had suggested changes to the county document.
“It has to be a mutual consensus, a reasonable consensus, for all of the parties involved,” said J.P. Michaud, who proposed a replacement document for the wind energy guidelines. “We’re just trying to initiate a debate here that’s going to be a reasonable compromise for the whole community.”
“You feel that each side is willing to move for compromise?” asked Lance Russell, Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission vice chairman. “That’s the exact reason we opened this up, is to make sure we do what’s right for the community.”
“Everybody has to be willing to move to some degree. The way right now, these people are getting a blank check for 10,000 acres,” Michaud said. “I think we need to have a public debate. That’s a good starting point.”
Michaud, on behalf of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, presented a document more than 20 pages long regarding wind turbine regulations.
The current zoning regulations for wind energy are less than two pages long.
While the regulations mandate a 1,000-foot setback between turbines and existing residences, the proposed document suggests the towers be located 1 mile from inhabited structures and a half mile from neighboring property lines.
This distance could be lessened if landowners choose to sign a waiver, Michaud said.
The proposal also includes many suggestions to regulate the amount of audible noise and vibration perceived at neighboring residences.
It states audible noise should not exceed 40 decibels for any period of time, and should not be more than 5 decibels above the existing background noise level.
Hays Wind Project Manager Krista Gordon said the proposed noise regulations would be impossible to abide by.
“I have presented the proposed language to our consultant … and asked them if it was possible,” she said. “They didn’t see any spot within Ellis County where any wind project could be built if the noise regulations, as they’re written, were adopted.”
“So you’re agreeing they do make noise?” asked zoning commissioner Barbara Anderson.
“I’ve never said they are silent,” Gordon said. “They make some noise, but they are quiet.”
Gordon said the project was designed to meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines of 50 decibels of noise emission during the day and 45 at night.
In a unanimous decision, zoning commissioners opted to table the ECEAC’s proposal for further consideration.
County Commissioner Perry Henman complimented the discussion and zoning commissioners’ efforts.
“I like the way this is going. You guys are finally actually talking about stuff, and I think it is important,” he said. “My whole point is the citizens of Ellis County, even the people who give leases, shouldn’t have to rely on the company for those standards. Those standards should be in our county guidelines, much like some of the other counties have decibel guidelines.
“You guys need to do the back and forth, and not just argue about it, but maybe do some research to find out what other people have done and then come up with your own standards.”
Russell said he took offense at Henman’s remarks, pointing out the zoning board had spent months reviewing regulations before they were passed to the county commission.
“We had meeting after meeting, month after month. … Yeah, there are some typos. That’s why we opened it back up, is to look at things that might change, because it’s a living document,” Russell said. “We opened this process up again, and we got no proposal from Commissioner Henman.”
Henman said he thought about submitting a proposal but did not want to micromanage the zoning board any more than he does other county departments.
“This is your guys’ job, and you should take the effort,” Henman said. “I know you’re volunteers, and I appreciate that. And I know you have taken effort in the past. But we’ve got a problem in front of us right now that we need to solve.”
Anderson also had discussed the possibility of establishing an independent board for the purposes of reviewing the proposed changes and made a motion to that effect.
“I make a motion that we have the county commissioners appoint a three-member board, one from each district, and let that three-member board go over all of this and decide on the new changes, and that will be their prime job,” she said.
This motion failed due to lack of a second.
In other business:
* Zoning commissioners heard from Rose Ann Dreiling, who suggested changes and revisions for the zoning document as a whole. No action was taken, and her presentation will be continued at next month’s meeting.
* Zoning Administrator Dale Wing said five permit applications have been filed regarding signs posted in the county regarding the proposed wind farm. County commissioners had decided at a previous meeting to allow more time for the permits to be filed.
By Kaley Lyon
27 February 2008