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County working group to draft wind farm regulations

Cindy and Larry Chapman fear they could soon have a view of a field of 436-foot-tall wind turbines from their acreage near Cortland.

They want Lancaster County officials to ensure any wind farm in the county doesn’t endanger the health of nearby property owners or devalue their property.

“We’re very concerned about the health effects of living in close proximity to (turbines),” Cindy Chapman said.

County planners agree work should be done to protect landowners from the potentially harmful effects of the turbines and are creating a working group to draft zoning regulations for wind farms. The Lancaster County Board approved the plan to create a working group last week.

The discussion is spurred by a Portland, Oregon-based company’s plans to build more than 50 wind turbines on 11,000 acres – 7,000 acres in southern Lancaster County and 4,000 in northern Gage County.

Volkswind USA initially submitted an application to change Lancaster County zoning codes to lower setback requirements and increase allowed noise levels, among other things. But it withdrew its application at the request of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department after it drew criticism from a host of county landowners, including a coalition of residents known as Stop Hallam Wind.

Cindy and Larry Chapman lead that group, which they say represents nearly 130 people who live in or near Hallam and Cortland.

Cindy Chapman said the group is concerned about the effect of wind turbines on people’s health and the environment. She said she fears vibrations and low-frequency noise from turbines could cause sleep deprivation in nearby homeowners.

At a public forum Jan. 27 in Cortland, Edward Walsh, an auditory neurobiologist from the Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, said most of the evidence that turbine noise is harmful to humans is anecdotal, and more scientific studies need to be done.

But Cindy Chapman said she’s seen property values in the area near the proposed wind farm fall in recent months and fears that devaluation could worsen should county zoning regulations fail to adequately protect nearby landowners. Larry Chapman said he’s concerned about turbines falling down and ice on their blades being thrown toward nearby properties.

A representative for Volkswind USA could not be reached for comment.

Sara Hartzell, a city-county planner, said most turbines built today have sensors that trigger shutdowns when blades become imbalanced and start to vibrate. She said turbines have fallen less than a dozen times in the United States, although she said that would be an issue the working group will address.

“We really want to try to address a lot of the concerns that have come up in the public discussion,” Hartzell said.

She said her department will begin seeking 12 to 15 wind energy industry representatives, environmentalists and landowners to join the working group. She said she expects the group to start drafting zoning changes in March and complete that work by June.

The planning department already has invited the Chapmans to join the group.

The group’s meetings will be open to the public and will be at community centers and schools in southern Lancaster County. Hartzell said the city-county Planning Commission and County Board will consider the working group’s recommendations once they are complete.

“It’s just important that people understand what’s going and have good information and be involved in the discussion,” she said.