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Township adopts 2,000-foot setback for wind turbines

GILMAN – After the Iroquois County Board adopted the largest known setback for wind turbines in Illinois, one of its townships, still dissatisfied with the changes made, has decided to adopt an even larger setback to take its place.

The board of supervisors for Douglas Township, an area around Gilman in west-central Iroquois County, passed a 2,000-foot setback for wind turbines in June – believed to be the first time a township in Illinois has adopted a wind turbine setback more restrictive than its county’s, according to Kevin Borgia, executive director of the Illinois Wind Energy Association.

Iroquois County’s setback of 1,500 feet, approved earlier in June, was already the largest countywide setback in the state for wind turbines, Borgia said. The county board increased its setback between turbines and “non-participating primary structures” – defined as homes located on property within the footprint of a wind farm but not being leased to a wind-farm developer – by 500 feet to address issues that could arise if turbines are built too close to those homes.

But Douglas Township officials did not think the countywide setback was restrictive enough. The county board last week was presented a resolution from Douglas Township officials asking that the setback be increased another 500 feet, exclusively in Douglas Township. The county board then approved the request.

Rod Copas, an Iroquois County Board member from Gilman who also serves as a Douglas Township supervisor, said Douglas Township asked for the 2,000-foot setback for the township “because we didn’t think the setbacks were strict enough.”

Copas noted that the Gilman area, unlike much of the rest of Iroquois County, has “a greater possibility for development,” and the township wanted to ensure that wind farms would not be built and inhibit growth possibilities for residential and commercial developments around Gilman.

“If you want to start putting these turbines up, there’s a good risk of stopping other development,” Copas said. “Show me one person that is willing to build a nice $300,000 or $400,000 house by one of these turbines. … People are not going to do that.”

“One shoe doesn’t fit all of us,” continued Copas, adding that “some other counties have taken the attitude that the townships (rather than the county) should be the ones to decide on the wind farm issues, whether they want them or not.”

Douglas Township was legally allowed to adopt a larger setback for its own township because it has a planning commission, which approved the proposal along with the Douglas Township board, said Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine. The township also submitted a resolution objecting to the county’s change in setbacks within 30 days of the county’s zoning board of appeals voting to increase the setbacks, as required by statute, Devine said.

At last week’s meeting, the county board was first asked to either sustain or overrule the objection to the countywide setback, Devine said. To overrule the objection would have required a supermajority – or three-fourths of the county board’s approval – but the board voted 15-7 to overrule the objection, not meeting the threshold, Devine said. With their objection, however, the board was also asked to adopt a 2,000-foot setback specifically for Douglas Township, and that proposal passed.

Copas said the state law that allowed the change is designed to give the township its own authority, and his township took advantage of that.

“Every township should have a planning commission,” Copas said. “It does not let the county board dictate all policy. It is the local people’s say in their own affairs. It’s a very good thing.”

Some wind farm companies have said that a 2,000-foot setback would be so restrictive that it would effectively eliminate the possibility of a wind farm. But Copas noted that it is a “waivable setback,” so a landowner can agree to allow a turbine placed closer to his or her home if they so choose.

Iroquois County’s zoning ordinance states that setbacks can be waived up to a distance of 1.1 times the height of a turbine. That means that a 400-foot turbine could be placed as close as 440 feet from a home, Copas said.

The five-member township planning commission approved the 2,000-foot setback in June, followed by approval by the five-member township board, Copas said. To avoid a conflict of interest, Copas said, he abstained from the vote when it was approved by the township board and county board.

Copas stressed that the required meeting notices were also posted at five locations at least 48 hours prior to the township board meeting in the Gilman area. However, Dr. Linda Dvorak, superintendent of the Iroquois West School District, which includes Douglas Township, has expressed concerns that she was never notified of the meeting. Copas said he did not feel notifying Dvorak directly was required.

“It just seemed like it was pushed through without people knowing about it,” Dvorak said Monday. “We were a little dismayed they didn’t contact the schools to see how this would affect us.”

Dvorak noted that her district has an interest in wind farms – and any decision the six townships in the district make regarding wind farms – because they can increase the district’s EAV (equalized assessed valuation).

“We would have liked to have been at least contacted about this so we could give our input for them to consider,” Dvorak said. “They need to have our input, and they did not.

There are only two other townships in Iroquois County that have planning commissions – Chebanse and Iroquois townships – but both are no longer eligible to object to the county’s new setback because they never filed the objection within the required timeframe.

Ford County, meanwhile, has no townships with planning commissions.