After almost two years of lengthy discussions and sometimes heated debates, the Ogle County Board Tuesday decided against tightening the restrictions on wind farms.
A motion to adopt a text amendment to the county zoning ordinance that would have put tighter restrictions on noise, setbacks and shadow flicker ended in an 11-11 tie vote.
A three-fourths majority of the 24-member board, or 18 yes votes, was required for approving the changes.
Board members Marcia Heuer, Oregon, and Maggie Nye, Rochelle, did not attend the meeting.
Board member Max Baumgardner, Franklin Grove, told the board he would vote in favor of the stricter regulations based on the number of letters he has received from county residents and the number of letters to the editor he has seen in local newspapers – the majority of which favored the tighter limits.
Board chairman Jim Barnes, Oregon, said he received 85 letters from residents who also wanted the tighter restrictions.
Board member Pat Suanders, Polo, said that she, too received many letters in the same vein, but believes the board needs to follow state statutes in making its decision.
“While we appreciate the letters, when it comes to zoning, by state statute, our vote is to be based on sworn testimony,” she said.
She said board must make its decision based on the sworn testimony given at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hearings on the text amendment.
The ZBA, she said, voted 5-0 to recommend a text amendment that was then tightened up by the Supervisor of Assessments, Planning & Zoning Committee (APZ).
“It’s not clear what the basis was for the changes,” she said.
Board member Lyle Hopkins, Polo, said that even if the motion did not pass, wind energy companies will have to apply for a special use permit to build a wind cfarm and go through the permitting process, including hearings before the ZBA.
“By defeating this issue we aren’t giving carte blanche to windmills,” he said.
Zoning administrator Mike Reibel agreed.
“A wind farm is still a special use in agriculture,” he said, adding that the application and hearing process required for special use permits would have to be followed.
“Conditions can be developed and applied to that special use,” Reibel said.
Prior to the discussion, board member Fred Horner, Rochelle, made a motion to amend the text amendment back to the ZBA recommendations. That was not seconded and went no further.
Board member Ashley Simms, Rochelle, made a motion to table the decision on the text amendment.
“I can’t see why you want to table it,” Barnes said. “This has been going on for two years.”
Simm’s motion failed by a 9-13 vote.
The county board appointed a Wind Energy Conversion Systems (WECS) Subcommittee in March of 2010 to study standards for wind farms and recommend changes to the county zoning ordinance.
The subcommittee met for several months and compiled its recommendations into the text amendment which then went to the ZBA and APZ for consideration.
Board member Bob DeArvil, Chana, made a motion to extend an existing moratorium on wind farms until Dec. 31 of this year.
“We need to quit playing games,” he said. “We need to vote on this and let the chips fall where they may.”
Barnes asked DeArvil to withdraw his motion until after the vote on the text amendment.
DeArvil withdrew the motion but reinstated it after the vote.
He said that with the threatened loss of federal grants and funding for wind farms, he is concerned that wind energy companies may try to rush the process in order to get started while the money is still available.
“Let’s let the ZBA and the Planning & Zoning Committee do their jobs,” Hopkins said.
Board member Rich Gronewold, Forreston, agreed that it was time to resolve the issue.
“I’m not a big proponent of wind farms,” he said. “But I think it’s time to face the issue.”
DeArvil’s motion was defeated, also ending in a 11-11 tie vote.
The board initially placed a three-month moratorium on wind farms in April of 2010, and then extended it numerous times. It will end Feb. 29.
The county board granted a special use permit in December of 2005 to the Baileyville Wind Farm in Maryland and Leaf River Townships.
Progress came to a halt the following month when lawsuits were filed against it in federal and state courts.
The lawsuits have now been resolved and a spokesman for Apex Wind Energy said in November that construction is expected to begin this spring.
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