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Board amends wind ordinance; Ups setbacks from homes, requires before, after studies of turbines’ effect

PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board tightened zoning requirements on future wind farm developments.

At its meeting Tuesday, the board approved an 18-page amendment to the county’s wind farm zoning ordinance that deals with a wide range of issues, including setback requirements, noise and shadow flicker, and turbine decommissioning.

The zoning committee has worked on the amendment since last spring, zoning officer Kris Donarski said. The Zoning Board of Appeals reviewed it, and made no recommendation on the first half of the document that deals, in part, with setbacks, noise and TV reception interference, but did recommend approval of the second half.

The amendment calls for an increased setback of turbines or meteorological towers from homes from the current 750 feet to 1,400 feet, or 3.2 times the height of the tower and blade, whichever is greater.

The setback from other structures, though, is decreased, from 1.25 times the height of the tower and blade to 1.1 times. That change was made because some residents were concerned the original setback would not allow them to build a barn or other outbuilding if a neighbor already had a nearby wind turbine.

It calls for new setback requirements, including a 1.5 mile setback of turbine or meteorological tower from an incorporated community and a 2,640-foot setback from an unincorporated platted community or platted rural subdivision.

Board member Marc Wilt objected to setbacks varying for different sites, calling that approach “ludicrous.”

The idea was to allow for possible future expansion, Donarski said.

When it comes to noise standards, the amendment calls for a preliminary study to be done by a third party prior to a turbine’s construction, and a study after it’s built to make sure all Illinois Pollution Control Board standards were met.

Before and after studies also would be required to address issues such as shadow flicker, TV reception interference and concerns for the safety of birds and other wildlife.

Donarski said the preliminary studies would have to be submitted with the conditional-use permit application for each turbine. They would be available at her office for public review before the application comes to the county board for a vote.

The text amendment also states that any turbine or meteorological tower not in operation for 12 months would need to be removed within 6 months.

If there is not enough money in escrow from the wind developers to handle the decommissioning, though, the burden would fall to the landowner or the county, Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann said.

If a wind turbine is found to be in violation of the zoning ordinance, the county can begin the process to revoke its conditional-use permit. The complaint will go to the state’s attorney’s office, and a judge would determine whether there were zoning violations.

A violation could result in a fine of $500 every week the violation continues.

Board member Jim Thompson said he believes that the county has been a pawn in a chess game, and that the proposed text amendment is not much different than what already was being done.