BEAUFORT – While Thursday evening’s special meeting of the County Planning Commission was intended to provide the board with the cell tower section of the tall structures ordinance, the floor was again opened to public concerns regarding the controversial wind turbines.
Also at the meeting in the boardroom of the administration building, the commission set up the three community meetings that the nine-month moratorium on the permitting of tall structures, like wind turbines, calls for.
Slated for May 28, June 19 and June 25, the meetings are intended to give the public input on the turbines and other structures covered by the tall structure ordinance. Draft copies of the ordinance will be available for the public before the meetings.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Catherine Elkins of Gloucester and Stephanie Miscovich of Bettie said they were in favor of wind energy and told planning board members to take their time coming up with the best possible ordinance for the county.
“I am supportive of wind energy and other alternative forms of energy because my wish is this will help with our dependence on coal, oil,” Ms. Elkins said. “I’m aware it won’t be our only energy provider but it can help wean ourselves from failing sources holding us hostage.”
Ms. Miscovich told the board wind energy was a gold mine ready to be tapped and with the proper expertise and research the ordinance could allow for great things.
Charles Renda Jr. of Otway and Ernie Filep of Gloucester were less than enthusiastic, however, citing European studies on the health effects of wind turbines.
The men’s main concerns were in regard to low frequency noise and vibrations produced by large turbines and said the best way to resolve those issues was to ensure there were large setback requirements in the ordinance.
“A mile and a half to 1.9 miles is what is suggested,” Mr. Randy said.
And Bob White with the AES Corp., an independent power producer in Apex, said his company, which has offered the town support during the draft process, had already imposed a setback limit of 1.1 to 1.5 miles or 1,812 feet, regardless of noise, when close to residential areas.
Mr. White said a lot of work has been done over the years to reduce the sound produced by the turbines, as well as other safety issues. He said the noise level can be set by those constructing it. Typical settings are at 55 decibels, slightly lower than a normal, talking person, or a measure above ambient.
He added there are always safety and health concerns in regard to wind turbines and the best thing the planning board could do is look into the science behind those claims.
Tim Convoy with Axiom, a developer of renewable energy, was also there to introduce himself and make himself available to the board should any questions arise during the development process of the ordinance.
The need for an ordinance on tall structures like wind turbines and cell towers was sparked by the proposed wind farm, Golden Wind Farm, for 33 acres in the Bettie community of Down East. Three commercial-grade turbines are proposed that would generate 4.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 900 homes. The turbines would stand more than 300 feet tall, including the reach of the rotary blades.
Opposition to the project has grown in the Down East communities, mainly due to the proposed location of the turbines, which would be in a rural but residential area along Golden Farm Road.
The nine-month moratorium was passed in March to allow the County Planning Department time to research and develop regulations on tall structures.
County staff, when developing the tall structure ordinance, studied ordinances from all over the state and conducted research on the Internet, from Appalachian State University and other sources across the state and settled on Currituck County’s recently developed ordinance as a model for its framework.
“We felt (Currituck’s) approach in setbacks was too complicated and inconsistent,” said Assistant Planning Director Jim Jennings. “We’re recommending a better, more restrictive approach that will be easier to regulate.”
County staff has already drafted the sections on wind turbines and cell towers, but still needs to draft the sections on shadow flicker, noise and vibration, which will be discussed in June.
The portion on cell towers, given to board members Thursday night, will be discussed at the June 19 special meeting. That part of the draft includes regulations on the cell towers visibility, signage, placement, height and requires the setbacks be 50 percent of the height of the tower or the existing setback requirement of the underlying zoning district, whichever is greater.
In reviewing the wind turbine section of the ordinance the board was mainly concerned with the setbacks and the specific qualifications for properties suitable for these types of tall structures.
Commission member Robin Comer said the board needed more time and data to make a final decision regarding the setbacks and height restrictions.
“In looking at this, we’re bombarded with all sorts of information,” Mr. Comer said. “We hear things on what the turbines can and can’t do, but in looking at everything, if the turbines go up, it will be with private funds, not taxpayers’ money. So I don’t really care about the financial return from the turbines, my concern is the health and impact to the area. That’s the only part I’m interested in.”
With few other comments from the board, Planning Commission Chairman Harry Archer said the draft ordinance was a living document and would remain so for some time, allowing board members and staff to go in and make changes accordingly.
The first community meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at the Western Park Community Center in Cedar Point.
The second community meeting will be held during the planning commission’s special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 19, in the boardroom of the administration building.
And the third meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, at a location to be determined in the eastern part of the county.
All three are intended to collect public comments but are not public hearings, which will be held by county commissioners at the end of this draft process.
Board members David Furna, Eric Gregson and Judson Walton were not in attendance Thursday.
By Eren Tataragasi
16 May 2008