DIXON – A Lee County committee on Thursday recommended noise rules for wind farms, requiring studies before and after turbines are built.
But some pushed for the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals to include a specific decibel limit for turbines’ noise.
The Zoning Board’s recommendations for the county’s wind ordinance will go to the full Lee County Board, which has the final say.
The proposed rules call for wind turbines to comply with Illinois Pollution Control Board noise regulations, although some argued that those rules are so old they didn’t take into account wind farms.
The proposed Lee County rules include a complaint procedure that would involve the Zoning Board.
The sound studies would be performed by third-party experts. No such assessments are required now.
Zoning Board member Tom Fassler argued for including a noise limit of 5 decibels above background sound – a number suggested by others.
“If you don’t have a number, you don’t have anything legal to stand on,” he said.
Member Mike Pratt said he feared that including a number would hurt residents because it would reduce the board’s flexibility.
“I think we have more power without a number,” he said.
The Zoning Board spent its 2-hour meeting last week entirely on the issue of noise regulations for wind farms. At the start of Thursday’s session, Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel read aloud proposed rules.
That proposal wasn’t made available to the public beforehand.
Attorney Rick Porter, representing a Lee County landowner, contended the public should have been given access to the proposal. And he said it seemed as if only representatives of Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power, which is planning a three-county wind farm, had a copy.
An audience member, Richard Boris, village president of Lee, asked Mainstream if it had a copy.
John Martin of Mainstream confirmed that he had received one from Henkel just before the meeting. He said he had been working with county officials to draft the regulations.
Porter asked for a 5-minute recess, so he could get a copy, too. No recess was called.
During the debate, Porter agreed with Fassler, arguing for a 5-decibel limit. He said experts had recommended that number.
But Jim Griffin, an attorney for Mainstream, contended setting noise rules for one industry was discriminatory. He also said the state Pollution Control Board regulations were adequate to handle noise pollution.
The Zoning Board voted 4-1 for the proposed rules. Fassler dissented.
“I’m not an expert,” Pratt said before he voted. “I don’t know if this is going to work. If it completely fails, we’ll do something different.”
The next topic for the board is the required distance between turbines and homes – perhaps the most controversial wind energy issue.
Indeed, more people have been attending the last two meetings in anticipation that the members would discuss the setback distance, which is now 1,400 feet.
At last week’s session, 60 people showed up, more than the usual 25. On Thursday, nearly 80 attended.
The board is expected to debate setbacks at its scheduled meeting on Jan. 20. That meeting will be on a Friday night, which could reduce turnout.
Chairman Ron Conderman said the board will meet a day later than usual to make sure member Pratt is there. Pratt will be returning from an out-of-town trip.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. Jan. 20 in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., in Dixon. The board is expected to discuss the distance between turbines and homes.
For more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call the zoning office at 815-288-3643.
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