Tipton board amends county wind ordinance; Setbacks, noise levels and complaint resolution addressed
TIPTON – After three months of debate, the Tipton County Board of Commissioners approved amendments to the wind ordinance that were substantially unchanged from those approved by the county’s plan commission in October.
The amendments were passed Monday by a 2-1 margin, with board member Mike Cline dissenting. After drawing plenty of debate and input from community members during meetings, Monday’s approval came with little discussion between commissioners. Residents on hand who were curious to hear about the amendments were not provided specific information about the changes during the meeting.
The amendments will be sent back to the plan commission for final approval in February. The plan board can either adopt the modified ordinance or vote it down and send it back to the county commission.
“It’s my opinion that the plan commission will accept (the amendments) and it will become an ordinance,” Commissioner Joe VanBibber said. “Basically there are few substantial changes from the ordinance they sent back to us.”
The amendments address setback requirements for wind turbines and the amount of sound the machines can emit.
Under the amended ordinance, wind turbines must be a minimum of 1,500 feet from property lines and 2,640 feet from residential and regularly occupied commercial or institutional buildings. Setbacks had originally been set at 1,000 feet from a property line.
Cline said he opposed the amendments because the setback requirements would discourage future construction of wind farms in Tipton County.
“I’m opposed to the setbacks,” he said. “We know that will kill future wind projects. This ends up being a land use issue.”
Noise emitted by the turbines had drawn sharp criticism from community residents. A limit of 55 decibels will be set for those with a lease for turbines on their property, while non-participants will have a decibel limit set at 45 decibels.
On a participating residence, the 10-minute A-weighted equivalent sound level will be measured at the wall of an occupied building nearest to the wind turbine or turbines. The sound level limits apply to contribution from the turbine only and do not include background ambient sounds.
The sound level limits were based on a model used in the Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County, Michigan. Under the ordinance passed by the plan commission in October, the noise level was set at 5 decibels over ambient levels.
“It takes some of the argumentative (aspects) out of the ordinance,” Commissioner Phil Heron said. “If you look at ambient sounds, they change on a daily basis. This is a starting point to discuss what is correct.”
VanBibber said some confusion surrounding the sound portion of the ordinance remains, but he feels there are now regulations in place that offer some protection to property owners.
“It brings up the point of why, for health safety issues, do you have a different decibel level for those participating and non-participating?” he said. “That’s the way it is modeled after (the Mason County) ordinance.”
Developers will need to provide a preconstruction background noise study and verify the sound limits can be met by the proposed turbine. After any turbine is built, documentation of the sound emissions will need to be provided to the county’s zoning administrator by a qualified professional, to be selected by the planning commission and paid for by the developer.
The amendments also made changes to the county’s current procedure for addressing complaints about wind turbines.
It now requires any information gathered by the turbine operator in response to a complaint to be given to the zoning administrator. A turbine can be shut down if a remedy is not found within 45 days of a known interference. Wind project developers will also be required to agree to binding arbitration as part of the approval process. Complainants can file a form with the planning office after 45 days and pay a fee of $350. Those funds will pay for arbitration.
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