HOLBROOK – After almost five hours in a work session held by the board of supervisors, it became apparent no one present from the public was pleased with a renewable energy facilities ordinance proposed by Navajo County staff.
The ordinance would cover a variety of industrial energy generation projects including solar power, biomass and geothermal facilities but the main focus at the work session on July 27 dealt with wind power. Most of the discussion was even more narrow in cope, dealing with noise levels and setbacks of wind farms.
Many of those in favor of wind farms opposed the ordinance because they felt the setback of about one-quarter mile (1,320 feet) from the borders of the project was too stringent. Those against wind farms felt the setbacks weren’t wide enough; in fact, some proposed setbacks of at least five miles.
“In some areas, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services requires a five mile setback to protect sage grouse and prairie chickens,” Cindy Foster said. “Have humans been degraded so much, they are regarded as meaning less than a bird?”
Several of those opposed to any wind farm project as they are now being carried out commented that county staff, including Deputy Public Director of Planning and Zoning Greg Loper, said they had listened to their concerns and apparently accepted their suggestions but, behind closed doors, ignored what they wanted to say. It was suggested that the county should wait to officially adopt the ordinance until they had a legal review.
Bill Elkins of Rocking Chair Ranch, the first person to enter into a lease for a wind farm, said, ” This ordinance would kill the wind farm industry in the county. You have to use common sense. Rewrite (the ordinance). The reason we signed the lease was to protect our ranch for future generations. It’s projects like this that keep us viable. The overwhelming percentage of county residents support these projects.”
For those talking about wind farms affecting their property rights, rancher Bill Jeffers said that property rights work both ways, that he takes great pride in his cattle ranch. He had already had talks with developers wanting to see if his property would be suitable for wind farming.
“You may say don’t let them do something because it will affect your property rights but what you want will affect my property rights,” he told those opposed to wind farming.
Leo Valenzuela said he, along with others, is opposed to wind farms and other alternate energy generating projects because it will affect his health and welfare as well as his “viewscape.”
Others said wind farms would generate vibrations and low level of noise which would affect the health of people who lived near them. Several said supervisors had a duty to protect them from such projects..
After the public comment portion was over, several of the supervisors had comments and questions arising from the remarks of the speakers. When Supervisor David Tenney started to address the issue, several people in the audience called out that they had only been allowed five minutes for their presentations but he was exceeding it. Tenney told them it was the supervisors’ meeting and the board members could talk as much as they wanted. In fact, those wishing to comment that day had been given five minutes which was two minutes longer than people were usually given in call to the public and other public hearings.
“I understood this was session to get public input,” Tenney said. “Maybe we can spend more time on it at the next board of supervisors meeting.”
Deputy County Attorney Lance Payette said that at that time they could have a public meeting, not a public hearing. In a public meeting, members of the public are invited to attend but don’t necessarily have to be called on for comments.
There was some discussion about whether to move to the next step which was to have another public hearing during the August planning and zoning commission meeting. It would then be brought back for discussion and possible adoption at the supervisor’s Aug. 24 meeting.
“Staff has to take this and work on it,” Deputy County Manager Dusty Parsons said. “The things we need to address that are facts that can be proven. Emotionally, I don’t know if we can address them.”
It was decided to send the draft ordinance back to the planning and zoning department for further work and then have it brought to the planning and zoning commission at their September meeting.
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