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County may push turbines farther back

Umatilla County still is deciding how close a wind turbine should be to a house, town and road.

Since December 2009, the county has been reworking its rules for siting wind farms. The county gives the go-ahead for wind farms producing less than 105 megawatts. Larger facilities are handled by the state.

Setbacks are a key bone of contention. In a meeting in November, planning commission members, wind company representatives and citizens challenged each other, asking who would want to live by a wind turbine. No one volunteered.

On Jan. 13 the Umatilla County Planning Commission met again, this time for a worksession. The latest draft of the rules lists a whole new set of setbacks. Some are listed in miles or feet, others are listed as a multiplication of the tower’s height, which is measured from the base of the tower to the highest tip of the turbine blade.

Here are a list of the proposed setbacks:

• Distance to city: 2 miles or 20 times turbine height

• Distance to a rural home: 3,520 feet or 20 times the turbine height

• Distance to an interstate or highway: 3 times the turbine height:

• Distance to a county road or archeological or cultural site: 2 times the turbine height.

Some of these setbacks are farther than those previously suggested, such as two-thirds of a mile from a residential zone, as opposed to the new proposal of two miles from a town; or half mile from a house, as opposed to two-thirds of a mile proposed now.

The planning commission agreed to most of the new setbacks by consensus, according to a draft of the Jan. 13 meeting minutes.

Some of the planning commissioners revealed their reasons for increasing the distance between turbines and houses, towns and roads.

Commissioner Gary Rhinhart said he was worried about turbine blades throwing ice.

Though he said there are no studies quantifying the problem, Commissioner Clinton Reeder said noise from turbines could cause hearing loss. He was less sure of other alleged health effects, like stress.

The Planning Commission is having another meeting on the rule changes at the end of the month. It will hold public hearings on the wind farm siting rules and another issue on Thursday, Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. in the media room of the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, 4700 N.W. Pioneer Place, Pendleton.

To read the latest version of the proposed rules, visit our website at www.eastoregonian.com