DANVILLE – The Vermilion County Board overwhelmingly defeated a resolution to consider county-wide zoning Tuesday night but did vote in favor of forming a committee to review the county’s wind farm regulations.
The zoning question failed 20 to 4, while the wind farm question passed with 14 in favor and 11 against. Two board members – Ed Barney and Jim McMahon —were absent from the meeting.
McMahon requested last month that the board form a committee that would consider implementing county-wide zoning – a suggestion that has surfaced, at times, in the ongoing debate over wind farms.
In the next 30 days, a committee will be formed by and chaired by local farmer Kevin Green, the District 2 county board member, who proposed last month that it’s time for the county to revisit its wind-turbine ordinance.
County board Chairman Gary Weinard suggested that the 14 board members who voted in favor of forming a wind ordinance committee Tuesday night serve on that independent panel, which will review the ordinance and recommend any changes to the full board.
A group of Vermilion County residents, including some who live within the county’s California Ridge Wind Project, have been continually lobbying the county board for months, asking for changes to local wind regulations, especially setbacks – the distance a wind turbine can be built from adjacent properties and buildings.
Those asking for changes want increased setbacks. But county officials have argued that, according to legal opinions they have received, the county cannot increase setbacks to a distance that would prohibit landowners from leasing their property to wind farms.
Board member John Alexander referenced those legal opinions, and said such increases would open up the county to legal challenge by property owners who want to lease.
In arguing against zoning, local farmer and board member Rick Knight said the reality is that wind turbines are widely used in many states, are allowed by state and federal governments, and utilities are required to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy sources.
“Nothing the county board does will make wind farms go away,” Knight said.
The board has already increased its setbacks once, in 2011, from 1,000 feet between wind turbines and primary structures on adjacent properties to 1,200 feet.
And, last year, board member Chuck Nesbitt brought to the county board a proposal for increased setbacks, but it failed to win support among a majority of members and was never called for a vote.
Still, about a dozen residents have continued calling for the board to consider changes, some citing health issues related to the wind turbines.
Any changes that might result from this new review wouldn’t affect the 104 turbines already built within the California Ridge project or the Hoopeston Wind project, a farm that’s under construction west of Rossville that will include more than 40 turbines. No new wind farms are currently being considered in Vermilion County, although county officials said that Invenergy had anticipated expanding California Ridge, but there are no definite plans for that at this time.
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