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Iroquois County Board approves more restrictions on wind farms

The Iroquois County Board approved more restrictive wind farm regulations Tuesday, focusing on health, safety and property rights of residents.

The regulations were opposed by a minority of board members who view the proposals as certain to prevent new wind farm development. The new regulations wouldn’t apply to the proposed K-4 Wind Farm in the northwest corner of the county because it was authorized several years ago. However, its development also has been repeatedly delayed for years.

Among the changes, the new regulations would increase the minimum distances that turbines must be from neighboring structures, require that underground electric conduit from turbines be buried six feet deep, and require that meteorological (MET) towers be painted standard aviation orange to prevent aircraft accidents.

Board members Dale Schultz, of Clifton, and Donna Crow, of Milford, said the plan seemed to be intended to discourage new wind farms.

They focused on economic development and the rights of landowners and taxing bodies to benefit from wind farms. In recent years, 97 turbines have been built in the Settlers Trail Wind Farm, between Sheldon and Stockland, and 17 in Loda Township as part of the Pioneer Trail project.

At the same meeting, a report showed that the real estate tax base increased from about $13.6 million to $33 million in Sheldon Township – 143 percent, and from about $7.55 million to $8.65 in Stockland Township – 14.5 percent. The largest beneficiaries are the Milford public school districts. Loda Township’s base increased 8.3 percent to $39.3 million.

Many areas of the ordinance “need to be tweaked,” said Schultz, who discussed the proposal at length. “Some changes seem clearly intended to deter wind farms from developing in Iroquois County.”

Crow said she though the proposal to be “a thinly veiled disguise to say lets not have any more wind farms in Iroquois County. If so, let’s get on with it.”

Zumwalt noted that one of the Sheldon area turbines flew apart last year and a broken blade “as big as this building” landed 100 feet from a local road.

A pilot and employer of three other flyers in agricultural spraying from Sheldon, he also noted that a pilot had been killed hitting a MET tower in California.

The current minimum distance between turbines and structures of property owners who don’t participate in wind farm development is 1,500 feet. Schultz, who once proposed 2,500 feet, contended that increasing that would prevent development.

Board Chairman Rod Copas, of Onarga, said he likes a proposal to make the standard five times the width of the wind tower rotor because they have been increased.

Board members John Shure, of rural Buckley, and Troy Krumwiede, of rural Watseka, emphasized that the ordinance includes a waiver process that would allow a neighboring property owner to waive the setback requirement and possibly receive compensation in exchange, rather than receiving nothing while having to live with turbines. “Those distances can be waived to 1.1 times the height of the wind tower,” Krumwiede explained Wednesday.

Board member Marvin Stichnoth, a lifelong Stockland Township resident, focused on health issues.

“I have done research for 2 1/2 years and have hundreds of pages about health effects,” he said, holding several thick binders and citing turbine noise and turbine “shadow flicker.”

“I think of my neighbors… praying that the wind doesn’t blow so they can get a decent night’s sleep … praying for cloudy days so they don’t get shadow flicker that causes nausea and headaches for many people. …

“A few months ago, my wife asked me how soon are you going to retire so we can move away from these windmills. I’m not ready to retire and this just breaks my heart.”

The board voted 11-5 to send the proposals to the county zoning board for a public hearing.

Supporting it were Stichnoth, Shure, Krumwiede, Zumwalt, Kyle Anderson, Lyle Behrends, Russell Bills, Ernie Curtis., Kevin Hansen, Dan Rayman and Bret Schmid. Voting no were Schultz, Crow, Jean Hiles, Donna Wasmer and Jed Whitlow.

The zoning board will likely hold the hearing near the end of August, said Debbie Wright of the zoning office. The zoning board can then recommend changes in the ordinance to the county board.