The Stark County Planning and Zoning Board rejected a series of proposed amendments to the county’s Zoning Ordinance, which called for stricter regulations on wind farms, at its regular meeting Thursday in front of a crowd of citizens that were divided on the topic.
In its place, a motion was approved to form a committee that would review the ordinance concerning wind farms and look for potential changes.
Among other things, the amendments called for wind turbines to be placed at least 3 miles from scenic byways, as well as putting a 300-foot cap on their height. It also required that wide distances be mandated between turbines and natural land features, such as lakes and rivers.
The proposal was drafted by Stark County resident Lorrie Nantt and supported by Concerned Citizens of Stark County, a group that supports stricter local regulations on future wind farms.
After Nantt presented the amendments to the board, board member Jay Elkin told Nantt that the guidelines seemed restrictive to the point of impractical.
“If we went forward with all of what you’re asking here, we wouldn’t have a wind farm in North Dakota,” he said.
Nantt said that, as things stand now, she and others are worried that the ordinance doesn’t do enough to protect landowner’s property and well-being.
“I’m concerned about safety for our citizens,” she said.
During a public comment section, many county citizens aired differing views on the proposal before the board.
Sister Paula Larson of the Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton spoke in favor of wind energy, based on the monastery’s experience with owning a wind turbine.
Larson said she was impressed after examining the county’s regulations for wind farms, quoting the segment’s opening paragraph which states its purpose as providing “a regulatory framework subject to reasonable restrictions, while allowing equitable and ordered development of wind farms.”
Larson said the amendments proposed by the citizen group were a violation of this statement, ignoring the “reasonable” and “equitable” parts of the process.
She also said she found a part of the proposal that would have required the county to reimburse landowners for possible property devaluation as a result of wind farms absurd, saying that no where else are such things guaranteed by any form of government. Larson asked if this would also apply to the activities of the oil industry.
“I would personally prefer to be looking at a 450-to-500-foot wind turbine out there, and I know that there would not be 150 trucks going past our driveway, worrying us on whether we could make a left turn,” she said, adding that “the beauty of the wind turbine is beyond imagination.”
Dickinson resident Cole Brew said he’s dreamed of building home on family land, but that he’s had that “put on hold” recently after the possibility of a wind farm being built near the land came up. He expressed fears of the land becoming visually unappealing.
“Will I be guaranteed that I won’t have to look out my front window and look at a 425-foot wind fan one day?” Brew asked.
He added that he didn’t believe the issue of noise was addressed properly in the ordinance, and he questioned just how much space in the county the commissioners were willing to grant to wind farms.
“This has turned into a game of Russian roulette for citizens with goals of finding land parcels in Stark County,” Brew said. “This is not fun for anyone.”
He asked the commissioners to revisit the ordinance.
Many other speakers asked the commissioners to have the ordinance reviewed, including Kurt Martin, the mayor of Gladstone.
Martin echoed others in suggesting that a committee be formed to comb the ordinance over and see what could be updated.
“I’m just saying … it’s not that bad to open up ordinances for consideration and change,” he said. “That’s not the end of the world. It happens all the time.”
Martin added that forming a committee was the “right thing to do” considering the amount of people on both sides of the argument.
Chairman Russ Hoff agreed, saying that the ordinance perhaps doesn’t effectively work the same in all parts of the county.
“Not necessarily one size fits all,” he said.
Hoff said he’d be willing to form the committee, tentatively inviting some of the prior speakers to be a part of it. Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning suggested that the Roosevelt-Custer Regional Council for Development be included, to which Hoff agreed.
Hoff said he hoped such a council would cure the lengthy arguments that have been a part of previous public hearings concerning wind farms.
“I don’t want to see this every time we have a meeting,” he said. “It’s not healthy for any of us.”
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