DIXON – The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals had planned to discuss at its meeting Thursday the controversial issue of how far wind turbines should be from homes.
Instead, the panel discussed another issue that had gone unresolved in a previous meeting – noise regulations for wind farms.
After 2 hours of debate, the five-member board decided to delay a vote on proposed noise rules.
Member Mike Pratt presented a proposal for noise that would require wind energy companies to conduct sound studies before and after turbines are built – all paid by the firms.
No such assessments are required under the current ordinance.
The proposal also includes a complaint procedure. After a complaint is made, an investigation would be conducted. If the property owner’s complaint is determined to be reasonable, the wind energy company would pay for the study’s costs.
But if the complaint is deemed unreasonable, the property owner must pay. Members of the audience said such studies cost thousands of dollars.
Under the proposal, both the company and the property owner would put money in an escrow account before the investigation.
The complaint procedure would apply to property owners within a mile of a turbine.
Members of the audience suggested wind energy companies pay for the costs of investigations. They said that if property owners had to front some money, that would deter them from complaining.
Pratt said the provision was included to avoid frivolous complaints. But others, including member Tom Fassler, questioned whether there would be such a problem.
Fassler, who lives near turbines, said noise is an “elusive thing” and that turbines’ noise can be bothersome one day but not the next.
He acknowledged that much of the discussion of decibel levels was “over my head.”
John Martin of Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power, which is planning a three-county wind farm, suggested that the county could collect from landowners with unreasonable complaints by placing liens on their properties.
Some audience members groaned.
Fassler responded, “If you were out of compliance, what are you going to do for the years that you interfered with people’s lives?”
Martin then proposed companies could pay for the first investigation of a complaint, but property owners would have to put up money for subsequent ones.
“That would penalize landowners,” said Rick Porter, a Rockford attorney representing a Lee County farm.
Porter encouraged the county to include a specific limit for turbines’ noise – 5 decibels above background noise. That number has been suggested by experts, he said.
Pratt’s proposal called for following Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations. Others pointed out that those rules were created before wind farms.
The board’s chairman, Ron Conderman, repeatedly tried to wrap up the discussion on noise regulations and get a vote. In the end, members agreed to hold off.
The panel has been meeting for 6 months to review the county’s wind ordinance. The Lee County Board will have the final say.
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