HOLBROOK – Navajo County finally has an ordinance regulating wind energy generation facilities.
An amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance regarding the facilities was passed with a few changes after a public hearing that lasted about 3 1/2 hours at supervisors’ Oct. 26 meeting. That might seem like the final step in the process but supervisors were told by one of the wind farm opponents that the supervisors haven’t heard the last from them. Before the meeting, at least one person said they would file a lawsuit against it.
In the past 15 months, at least four public hearings had been held on the issue and members of the public were given another chance at the Oct. 26 meeting before the vote was taken.
Several people stated they didn’t think the ordinance had been refined enough. They wanted a cash bond held until the projects were decommissioned and the land returned to its previous condition.
One of the biggest issues dealt with setbacks from property lines and residences. The proposed ordinance called for a half mile from the property line for parcels less than 2.5 acres; one quarter of a mile for parcels greater than 2.5 acres but less than 20 acres; 1,000 feet for parcels greater than 20 acres but less than 40 acres; and 750 feet for parcels greater than 40 acres. Many of those against wind farms wanted the setback to be at least a mile. One person angrily said he didn’t want the turbines even as far away as 30 miles from his land.
“You are forcing the public to become de facto investors by taking these setbacks,” Karen Ingersoll said. “Taking from one person and giving to others is stealing.”
The issue of “taking” was brought up several times. Deputy County Attorney Lance Payette said “taking” had nothing to do with this issue and suggested they contact a property attorney to get the facts.
Bill O’Grady and several others said they were concerned blasting would harm their wells. They wanted to have funds set aside to pay for any problems with their wells. There was a charge that blasting would harm the aquifer as well. Payette said the county can’t set blasting requirements because such laws apply to underground mining only.
A representative of Iberdrola Renewals, which operates the Dry Lake Wind Farm and is in the process of construct Dry Lake II, said the document had been a compromise but they supported it.
Itasca Small and others said it was the supervisors’ responsibility to protect the property owners in the county. “We do not have to allow these monsters (the turbines) to destroy our county,” Small commented. “We can forbid them in Navajo County!”
“Arizona Game and Fish supports this ordinance as long as it doesn’t harm wildlife,” Donette White from the Game and Fish office in Pinetop stated. “I salute the board of supervisors, planning and zoning and staff and fully support the ordinance especially with the wildlife concerns section.”
The section states any detrimental impacts to wildlife shall be identified in the formal annual report to Arizona Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Snowflake Town Manager Paul Watson, Vice-mayor Kerry Ballard and Councilor Tom Poscharsky as well as Taylor Town Manager Eric Duthie reported that their councils had both passed resolutions in favor of the wind farms.
Watson said the town’s economic development committee is very focused on job creation and that, while the wind farms didn’t provide a lot of jobs, it was a step in the right direction and would attract other industry.
When Board Chairman Jesse Thompson turned the matter back to the supervisors, Supervisor David Tenney said he was concerned about rules that wouldn’t allow setbacks closer than half a mile from an existing residence but had setbacks of only 750 feet from the property line on vacant land. He thought all setbacks should be the same whether the land had buildings on it or not.
“We have a section that has three sides open,” Iberdrola’s Christopher Bergen said. “If you called for a half mile setback, we would just be able to construct turbines in the center. It would cost a lot more per kilowatt. That’s not an efficient use of land per megawatt.”
After some discussion, it was decided to keep the half-mile setback for the smallest parcels and modify the ordinance so all other setbacks would be a quarter mile.
“This ordinance is a benchmark,” Supervisor J.R. DeSpain said while making the motion to approve the amendment. “When developers want to build in the future, they will still have to come before us and we can set stipulations.”
After the ordinance was passed, Planning Director Greg Loper, who was in charge of creating the document, asked supervisors to approve sound requirement guidelines for the facilities. That too was passed .
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