Following hours of heated comments from citizens, the Navajo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance regulating wind energy generation.
The ordinance passed by the board contained nearly all the same provisions as the one recommended by the Navajo County Planning and Zoning Commission, but with changes to the setback distances.
Under the newly enacted ordinance, wind turbines must be placed at least one-half mile from all existing residences. For vacant land, they must be placed at least a quarter-mile away from the property line, unless the lot is 2.5 acres or smaller. In the case of lots 2.5 acres and under, the turbines must be placed at least a half-mile from the property line.
In the ordinance recommended for approval by the commission, setbacks were a half-mile for existing houses, but varied widely for vacant land depending on the size of the lot. Supervisor David Tenney noted that for some vacant properties, the setback would be less than a half-mile from any point on the lot.
“I still can’t wrap my mind around why it should be different,” Tenney said prior to the ordinance being amended to change the setback distances. “I recognize that there are people who have large parcels that are not developed and I feel like we have an obligation to try to protect their property rights as much as those of the citizens who are here. Whether someone owns one-half acre or 1,000 acres that are not developed, they should be afforded the same rights as far as setbacks. It should not be less just because they haven’t developed the property.”
A one-size-fits-all setback of a half-mile from all private property lines was suggested. Representatives from Iberdrola noted that such a blanket measure would make turbine placement nearly impossible on typical square-mile parcels that are bordered on three sides by private property.
“It’s impractical to do a half-mile setback from a project perspective,” said Iberdrola Business Developer Chris Bergen. “The message you’re sending to the development community is that a future use is more important than a ‘bird in the hand’ proposed use.”
Bergen also told the board that half-mile setbacks from all property lines would result in inefficient land use, since it would take nearly twice as much land to develop a wind farm, but much of that land would go unused.
Following a lengthy discussion, Tenney suggested that the setback distances be modified to a half-mile from existing residences, and a quarter-mile from the property line for vacant land over 2.5 acres.
Tenney told the board that he believes that the ordinance is not perfect as it relates to setbacks, but the compromise is as close as it can come to balancing the rights of private property owners and commercial developers.
Deputy County Attorney Lance Payette noted that both the board and the commission have the ability to increase setbacks for individual properties if necessary when a special use permit is requested for a specific project. He explained, for example, that when a permit is requested to place wind turbines, a property owner planning to construct a house that would be less than a half-mile from the nearest planned turbine could request a larger setback, and the board would have the ability to grant that request.
Board members also briefly addressed blasting on wind energy construction sites. Planning and Zoning Director Greg Loper explained that blasting was not included in the ordinance because staff felt it was better addressed with each individual project application.
“Blasting occurs almost every day for roads and bridges, and people blast for basements, and for a myriad of reasons, and we don’t regulate those,” Loper said. “We didn’t find anything to guide us in creating an ordinance for this specific use, and we felt there was no reason for it to be singled out.”
Loper noted that the state does not set any requirements for the type of blasting that could occur during wind farm construction.
“There is more significant blasting done in other areas that we don’t regulate today,” he commented.
Payette pointed out that property owners are already afforded some protections through the state if their property is damaged by blasting.
Board members informally agreed that blasting could be addressed on a case-by-case basis, if necessary, when permit applications are made.
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