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Official wants all towns protected; Horn warns about possibility of lawsuits

MORRISON – A Whiteside County Board member is questioning the county’s approach to how far wind turbines should be sited away from towns.

Jim Duffy, D-Sterling, said it sounded like the decision about the required distance between turbines and houses already had been made.

He discussed the issue Tuesday with members of the County Board’s Executive Committee.

The county Public Works Committee recently voted to keep the distance between homes and turbines at 1,400 feet, which is the same as Lee County’s.

But Duffy said the county should allow all towns to regulate turbines within 1.5 miles of their borders. That’s what the board of trustees for Deer Grove, population 48, voted to do in the spring.

That type of regulation is allowed under state law, but some question whether towns without general zoning ordinances can assert such powers. Deer Grove, like most towns its size, doesn’t have zoning rules.

Sterling, Rock Falls, Morrison and Fulton can regulate turbines within 1.5 miles, Duffy noted.

“Why wouldn’t we extend that same courtesy to communities without zoning?” he asked.

County Administrator Joel Horn said the county could, but that he would check with the state’s attorney’s office first. He warned that property owners may sue if the 1.5-mile rule stopped them from having turbines.

Duffy replied that someone could do the same under the current 1,400-foot setback.

Bill McGinn, D-Sterling, chairman of the Public Works Committee, defended the panel’s approach. He argued that wind farms would need special-use permits and that the county could set rules for each one.

After a few minutes of discussion, board Chairman Tony Arduini, D-Rock Falls, moved to another subject.

“There’s no use arguing. We won’t solve it here,” he said.

The Public Works Committee is expected to continue its review of the county’s current ordinance on wind farms. The issue eventually could reach the County Board.