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Regulating the wind

PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board has tightened zoning requirements on future wind farm developments, but maybe not well enough, according to some board members.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Bureau County Board reviewed an 18-page text amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance regarding wind farms, dealing with a wide range of issues, including setback requirements, noise and shadow flickering, and decommissioning.

Zoning Officer Kris Donarski presented the recommended text amendment in the absence of Zoning Committee Chairman Marsha Lilley. The Zoning Committee has worked on the wind farm amendments since last spring, Donarski said. The Zoning Board of Appeals, which reviewed the proposed text amendment, made no recommendation on the first half of the document, dealing, in part, with setbacks, noise and television reception interference but did recommend approval of the second portion of the document.

In reviewing the proposed text amendment at Tuesday’s meeting, Donarski said the amendment has taken additional stipulations previously placed upon wind farm developments and now incorporated those stipulations into the zoning ordinance itself.

In looking at specific updates, Donarski said the amendment calls for an increased setback of turbines or meteorological towers from residences from the current 750 feet to 1,400 feet, or 3.2 times the height of the tower and blade, whichever is greater.

However, the setback for other structures 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 had a nearby wind turbine.

The text amendment also recommended some 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 having varying setbacks for different sites, calling that approach “ludicrous.” Mike Maynard also questioned the reasons for the varying setbacks. The idea of greater setbacks for unincorporated areas was to allow for possible future expansion, Donarski said.

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

Addressing the noise standards issue, the text amendment calls for a preliminary study to be done by a third party, qualified professional prior to the construction of the wind turbine. A second study would be after construction to make sure all standards set by the Illinois Pollution Control Board are met.

Preliminary and post-construction studies would also be required to address other issues like shadow flickering, television reception interference, avian and wildlife concerns.

Donarski said the preliminary studies would have to be submitted with the conditional use permit application for each turbine or meteorological tower. The studies would be available at her office for public review prior to the application coming to the county board for a vote.

The text amendment also addresses the decommission plan, stating any turbine or meteorological tower not in operation for 12 months would need to be removed within six months. However, if there is not enough money in escrow from the wind developers to handle the decommissioning, 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 the conditional use permit for the turbine in violation. The complaint will go to the State’s Attorney’s office, and a judge would determine any zoning violations. A violation could result in a $500 weekly fine.

The county board approved the text amendment on a voice vote, with two recorded no votes.