Bureau County residents impacted by the growth of wind farms in their communities showed both support and opposition to the industry at Tuesday’s Bureau County Board meeting.
Ohio resident Barbara Draper said the shadow flicker from a turbine almost one mile from her home and the appearance of wind turbines across the countryside detract from the quality of life she previously enjoyed.
“We are no longer enjoying the peace and quiet of rural living. We feel as if we are living in an industrial park, not a farming community,” she said.
Deb Anderson of Ohio, who last month spoke with her husband about television interference from the turbines, also experiences shadow flicker in her home.
“We have shadow flicker in every single room of our house right now,” Anderson said.
The effect varies by time of day and season, she explained, but as the sun approaches the turbine the shadow becomes wider and the flicker more intense. It’s noticeable in her kitchen around the time she makes dinner for her family, she said.
“I have stainless steel appliances, and it almost makes you want to put your sunglasses on while you’re in there,” Anderson said.
The turbine causing the flicker is 1,750 feet from her home, well within the setback approved by the county, she said.
“We’re not against wind energy at all. I think what needs to be done is these things need to be put further away from people’s houses,” Anderson suggested.
Fearing a potential moratorium on future wind development in the county, others urged the county board to find ways to address wind farm-related concerns through zoning ordinances and conditional use permits so the county can still benefit from the economic development the industry brings in terms of job growth and increased revenue for schools and other taxing bodies.
Bureau Valley Community Unit Schools superintendent John Bute highlighted the double-digit unemployment rate in Bureau County – 10.1 percent in November 2010 – and said 39.5 percent, or 2,216 , of public school children in the county were considered for free or reduced school breakfast and lunch based on household income in 2010.
“I would encourage the Bureau County Board to reach out to economic developers within the county and invite them in to work out any and all concerns relating to their developmental projects. A positive gesture on economic development from this government entity would send the message to the citizens of Bureau County that you want to help them reduce unemployment and that you want to continue to help local public school districts’ efforts in providing a wide range of services for each and every child that attends your schools,” Bute said.
Two of Bureau Valley’s attorneys, Paul Stephanides and Fred Lane, spoke about legal solutions other than a moratorium.
“The regulations that you currently have in effect, which require a conditional use for wind turbines, are more than sufficient. The conditional use authority that you have written currently in your zoning ordinance allows this board to adopt conditions on the installation of wind power facilities, and the conditions that may be adopted can take into account the matters that have been addressed previously, such as television interference, shadow flicker and the like,” said Stephanides.
A moratorium is unnecessary and would only serve to harm property owners, taxing bodies and the community as a whole, he continued.
Lane expanded on Stephanides’ discussion of how the conditions attached to permits can prevent some of the problems associated with wind development. Flicker effect, for example, depends on the angle of the sun and the time of the year. At worst, he said, the effect lasts about 30 minutes a day when the sun hits the turbine at a certain angle. He offered a simple solution that could be written into a conditional use permit.
“You have the turbines automatically turn off during those periods of time. That’s what has happened in other communities,” explained Lane.
Rick Cernovich of Sheffield, a Bureau Valley school board member and local doctor, said there’s an urgent need for economic improvement in Bureau County to support the health and welfare of local citizens.
“In our own medical practice, we’ve always felt it’s our mission to serve the under-insured. Ten years ago, it was about 10 percent of our practice. It’s now up to 40 percent, and at rates that don’t hardly meet our overhead, it’s unsustainable for us,” Cernovich said.
“You look at the hospital finances, we are now on track to lose $1 million this year,” he continued.
This loss is due not to fewer patients but to a 100 percent increase in public debt the hospital had to write off for unpaid reimbursements for Medicare, Medicaid and the uninsured, he said.
“Now is the time for economic investment in our communities. The wind turbines are here now. They’ve sought out our area to invest in. I just don’t know who else is going to do that at this time,” said Cernovich.
Following the lengthy public comment session, board member Marc Wilt moved to issue a 12-month moratorium on accepting new applications from wind farms while the board examines its zoning ordinances, roads agreements and decommissioning plans.
State’s attorney Patrick Herrmann advised the board not to vote on this motion because it was not on the agenda.
Several board members indicated the discussion should begin at the committee level before reaching the full board, and board chairman Dale Anderson suggested the zoning committee meet more frequently, two or three times a month instead of once, to address the ongoing challenges.
After some discussion, Wilt withdrew his original motion.
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