PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board will not place a moratorium on wind farm development in the county, at least not at this time.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Bureau County Board heard from Deb Anderson and Barbara Draper, Ohio residents who said the Big Sky wind farm is causing shadow flickering, television reception and other problems at their residences. The board also heard from Bureau Valley School Superintendent John Bute, BV Board member Rick Cernovich and the school’s attorneys Paul Stephanides and Fred Lane.
In her comments, Anderson said she is not opposed to wind energy or wind farms, but she thinks the county board needs to strengthen its ordinances to increase setbacks, so turbines are placed further away from residences. Anderson also attended the December county board meeting to talk about shadow flickering and television reception problems at her house.
Draper said she is also having problems, including shadow flickering, because of Big Sky.
“We live in the midst of Big Sky, and we are no longer enjoying the peace and quiet of rural living,” Draper said. “We feel like we are living in an industrial park, not a farming community. The countryside has been replaced by wind turbines.”
Draper said she had sent letters to every county board member about her concerns but heard back only from board member, Laura Rose. The Ohio woman then asked for a show of hands among the board members as to how many live within any wind farm in Bureau County. No hands went up.
Speaking in favor of wind farm development in Bureau County, attorneys Stephanides and Lane talked about legal actions and solutions other than placing a moratorium on wind farm development.
Bureau County does have good regulations in place concerning the development of wind farms, and those regulations can be adjusted as needed, Stephanides said. There are answers to the problems, such as turning off turbines causing shadow flickering during a certain time of the day. The answer is not a moratorium, the attorney added.
In his comments, Lane said the county board must consider the public benefits of wind farms as well as any private loss, adding the board needs to consider the economic impact of any moratorium against wind farms.
In the case of Bureau Valley, the school district gets between $12,000 and $15,000 in property taxes for each turbine, Lane said. With the uncertainly of the state coming through with its payments to school districts, the property tax from the turbines is very significant.
Bute also talked about the economic impact of the wind farms on the Bureau Valley District.
According to Bute, Bureau County has a double-digit unemployment rate, 10.1 percent in November 2010, and nearly 39.5 percent, or 2,216, of the county’s public school children come from low-income households.
“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,” Bute said. “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.’
Cernovich agreed, saying now is the time for economic investment in Bureau County.
“The wind turbines are here now. They’ve sought out our area to invest in,” Cernovich said. “I just don’t know who else is going to do that at this time.”
After the public presentations, board member Marc Wilt made the motion to put a 12-month moratorium on issuing any conditional use permits for wind turbines. The county needs to look at its zoning ordinances, road agreements and decommissioning agreements before moving forward. The county is not protecting its people, he said.
In response, board member Steve Sondgeroth said he sympathized with the people having problems with Big Sky, but he thought there must be ways to solve the existing problems without placing a moratorium on wind turbines. He also questioned whether the board could vote on a moratorium since it wasn’t on the agenda.
“I think it would be premature to do a moratorium,” Sondgeroth said. “I think we need to be a wind farm-friendly county. We need to compromise and work together.”
In response to the moratorium question, Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann confirmed the county board could not vote on a moratorium because it was not on the agenda.
After further discussion, Wilt withdrew his motion, and the wind farm issue was sent back to the zoning committee for further study.
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