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Roanoke County supervisor wants to revisit wind turbine noise ordinance

Roanoke County Supervisor Ed Elswick hopes to tighten a wind zoning policy that his board approved last month, and that he and residents of Bent Mountain strongly opposed.

Elswick asked the county board of supervisors on Tuesday to rescind a 60-decibel maximum limit on large wind turbines. That policy regulates how loud the turbines can be at the nearest property lines.

The 60-decibel limit is too high, Elswick said Tuesday. He compared the noise level to a highway, which would be inappropriate in rural areas, he said.

The board likely will discuss Elswick’s suggestion at its next meeting, Oct. 25.

But a change in policy wouldn’t lie with Elswick alone; two of the four other supervisors must join him.

On Sept. 13, the four board members except for Elswick had approved that limit and others for industrial-sized wind energy sites after listening to hours of community members’ speeches for and against. Elswick walked out of that meeting after the board passed the decibel limit and a minimum for how far turbines must stand from neighboring homes (1,000 feet) and from property lines.

He did not ask the board Tuesday to reconsider the setback distances.

“If you lower the decibels, then you have to be farther away,” he added.

Board members Mike Altizer, Charlotte Moore and Chairman Butch Church said Tuesday they weren’t aware that Elswick wanted to change the code until he brought it up during the public meeting.

On Tuesday, both Altizer and Moore said they wouldn’t change their votes. Church, who had attempted to have the board agree on a lower decibel limit at the September meeting, said he would wait to decide until he heard discussion at the next meeting.

Supervisor Richard Flora was absent Tuesday.

The wind energy debate has had vocal support and opposition in Roanoke County this year, since a company has announced plans to build 15 to 18 turbines on leased land on Poor Mountain, in Elswick’s Windsor Hills District.

Invenergy, the company, has not applied to the county for a special-use permit, a step that allows supervisors to change, accept or deny the zoning for a specific project. Supervisors have not weighed in publicly on how they would vote on Invenergy’s project.

Also at the meeting, the board passed its legislative priorities for the Virginia General Assembly. The county will ask the state, among other things, to avoid giving counties the responsibility to maintain secondary roads, which could add a $4.6 million deficit, or 5.7-cent property tax increase equivalent, to the county budget.

County Attorney Paul Mahoney, who presented the resolution, said the board’s 10-point agenda highlights a common theme: that the state should stop shifting costs to local governments.