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Whiteside County panel: Keep wind setback same

MORRISON – A Whiteside County committee Tuesday rejected increasing the required distance between houses and wind turbines.

The County Board’s Executive Committee voted unanimously against changing the setback from 1,400 feet to 1,600 feet.

That decision differs from one by the Public Works Committee, which voted 4-1 last month for increasing the distance to 1,600 feet.

Lee County also has a setback of 1,400 feet, which is a little more than a quarter of a mile. If Whiteside County increased its setback to 1,600 feet, it would be the largest in the state.

Even though the Executive Committee rejected the increase, officials said members can bring up the issue at next week’s County Board meeting. It’s not clear whether anyone will.

Members of the Executive Committee said the proposed increase wouldn’t make much of a difference, so it wasn’t worth the cost of going through a contentious public hearing process to change the county’s wind energy ordinance.

Also Tuesday, the committee decided against a proposed policy that would require wind energy companies to come to an agreement with certain towns about where turbines could be placed.

Towns with zoning ordinances can regulate activities such as wind energy within 1.5 miles of their boundaries. But it’s not clear whether towns without zoning rules can do so.

So some Executive Committee members suggested the county put 1.5-mile buffer zones around the two towns in Whiteside County without zoning regulations – Deer Grove and Coleta.

County Administrator Joel Horn, however, said it may be better to enact a policy – not an ordinance – to deal with such issues. He said the hearing process for an ordinance change could cost the county more than $10,000.

Member Jim Duffy, D-Sterling, liked Horn’s idea. He proposed the county’s policy require wind energy companies and communities without zoning come to an agreement about where to build turbines, if anywhere, within the 1.5-mile zone.

The committee voted 4-3 against the policy. Tony Arduini, D-Rock Falls; Bill McGinn, D-Sterling; Steve Wilkins, D-Morrison; and Bill Abbot, R-Fulton, opposed it. Joining Duffy were Karen Nelson, D-Rock Falls, and Sue Britt, D-Morrison.

Arduini, the board’s chairman, said he didn’t think the county had any business enacting such a policy.

Duffy said the county had a duty to protect the people of the county and listen to them.

“We do have business doing this,” he said.

McGinn, who doubts that turbines hurt nearby residents, said a 1.5-mile setback around a town was “far-fetched.”

He added that the county could take care of setbacks around communities in the process of granting special use permits for turbines.

The issue has significance for Deer Grove. Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power is planning a wind farm for Whiteside, Lee and and Bureau counties. In Whiteside County, the farm is expected to be near Deer Grove, population 48, which is south of Rock Falls.

After the meeting, Deer Grove Mayor Al Thompson, who has called for more regulation of wind farms, said Duffy’s proposed policy would have helped his town.

“This should go to the full board,” he said. “Once these things go up, Whiteside County is screwed.”

Duffy said he might bring up the issue to the board Tuesday.

To attend

The Whiteside County Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the County Courthouse, 400 N. Cherry St., in Morrison.

The board may discuss the issue of setbacks for wind turbines.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.whiteside.org or call 815-772-5100.