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Court split on amending zoning ordinance  

Credit:  Marla Toncray, The Ledger Independent, www.maysville-online.com 12 July 2011 ~~

A large crowd attended Tuesday’s Mason County Fiscal Court meeting to voice concerns to a proposed wind farm in the Germantown/Minerva area of the county.

Discussion and questions about the project took an hour and half of the two and a half hour meeting.

Bill Shugars, who has been the lead voice of opposition to the project, read a statement to the court in which he asked for a two mile setback from adjoining property lines for wind turbines. Currently, setback distances on land zoned agriculture is 50 feet from the side of a structure to the property line and 50 feet from the rear of a structure to the property line.

Also in his statement, Shugars asked the court to put a moratorium on the wind farm developments, specifically the signing of contracts with landowners. He also informed the court of a petition containing more than 150 signatures asking for a two mile setback.

Shugars’ statement was followed by statements or questions from Bruce Bellingham, Jack Hussey, Teresa Stitt, Ralph Pawsatt and Carol Shugars. The questions and concerns expressed ranged from interference with electronic devices, to what regulations have been set forth by the Kentucky Public Service Commission, and whether or not the energy produced at the wind farm would benefit Mason County residents and if discussions were taking place with local power generating companies to buy the electricity.

Adam Rickell, project manager for NextEra Energy which is exploring placing wind turbines in Mason County, answered all questions or statements from the audience and commissioners.

Rickell said it would be 2013 before any construction of turbines begins, that there is still a one-year environmental study to conduct, local electric utilities have been contacted, and it would take six to 12 months to complete the land transactions necessary for a wind farm.

Rickell said NextEra wants to “make sure we have a project” and “we’ve got an area of interest” but hasn’t talked to all the property owners yet. Rickell also said private meetings have been held with landowners to discuss wind farm information with them, introduce the company and to work with NextEra on the contracts.

“It’s not something we’re trying to hide; these are private business meetings. We are not going to sign up all our leases before we have public meetings,” he said. “The bottom line is, it’s between us and the landowners to see if we have a site here.”

Rickell also said there is literature available from NextEra and Gene Weaver, Maysville-Mason County Industrial Authority director, on third party studies conducted on noise flicker, vibration studies and World Health Organization recommendations for decibel levels and rotation per minute, RPMs, of wind turbines. NextEra sets its decibel level at 50, a World Health Organization recommendation, and its RPMs at 20, lower than WHO, he said.

Rickell encouraged those in attendance to obtain the information from either Weaver or NextEra.

In relation to the setback limit, NextEra uses a 1,400-foot setback from property lines and the turbines are typically placed 1,000 feet apart.

“We feel our setbacks are adequate,” Rickell said, adding there would be one turbine on any given acre.

He also addressed the lights on top of the turbines, which are mandated by Federal Communication Commission, saying they point upwards, not down at the ground.

He also said the blades are painted an off-white to hold down reflections.

On the issue of reclamation of the land if the wind farm is stopped or not efficient anymore, he said the turbines are dismantled, and the ground reclaimed to its original depth, according the specifications negotiated with the property owner. He also noted if the leases are signed and the project stopped, the leases typically have an expiration date, therefore owners aren’t left with property tied up in legal issues.

About an hour into the meeting, the question of whether or not the Kentucky Public Service Commission has regulations in place for wind farms was asked. Bellingham said he talked with PSC legal counsel Ron Lang, who informed him discussions are under way on how to regulate the industry, but information won’t be available until after Sept. 1.

County Attorney John Estill interjected if the PSC sets regulations, those would override local zoning ordinances.

Commissioner Annette Walters said the fiscal court might want to put a hold on things until it is determined what the PSC exemption information is.

While discussion and debate continued on the subject of whether or not the land use ordinance should be changed or not, Mason County Judge-Executive James L. “Buddy” Gallenstein made his own comment on the subject.

“I don’t share everybody’s view on wind turbines,” Gallenstein said, adding he traveled to Lafayette, Ind., unannounced on Saturday to visit a 32-turbine wind farm. The farm is not owned by NextEra. Gallenstein said he visited with property owners who benefited from the turbines and those who didn’t.

“I didn’t hear the same reaction as I’ve heard today,” he said.

He also plans to visit Somerset, Penn., on July 18 and 19 to visit a NextEra wind farm there.

“I will continue to read and study on this. I’m going to Somerset and I’m going to that community to see if the reaction is the same as Lafayette,” he said. “It’s premature to set boundaries.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Walters made a motion to implement a moratorium on land contracts related to the project for six months; Commissioner Phil Day seconded the motion.

Estill asked Walters what legal authority the court had to make such a motion. Without an answer to the question form Walters, Estill reminded the court that “an ordinance can only be changed by an ordinance,” and there is no legal power of the court to put a moratorium on a private business transaction.

Walters withdrew the motion, and replaced it with one to ask the Mason County Joint Planning Commission to hold a public meeting related to changing the land use ordinance. The motion was seconded by Day.

Commissioner Pat McKay was the first to express his opposition to the motion.

“I can’t tell people what to do with their personal business. I’m not going to look at individuals and say “no you can’t do that business,” not until I have more information,” said McKay. “You’re asking for a text amendment change and I’m not going to do it, not at this point.”

While Walters defended her motion, she also said “we’re not saying we’re going to stop anything.”

Gallenstein also said he would not vote for the motion.

“Anything we do here now is counterproductive and slams the door on business coming here,” Gallenstein said. “That’s why I’m going to vote against it, it’s too early.”

With a split vote of two-two, the motion became a “no action item.”

The next regular meeting of Mason Fiscal Court is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 9 a.m.

Source:  Marla Toncray, The Ledger Independent, www.maysville-online.com 12 July 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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