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Another reason for zoning

As many land-use wrangles as erupt in Butler County, one would think that eventually local officials would see the merits of zoning regulations, which provide a framework for managing such conflicts.

But, no, Butler County continues to stand as one of only four among Nebraska’s 93 counties that have neither a comprehensive plan nor zoning regulations.

The latest clash was triggered by fear of wind turbines. NextEra Energy, based in Florida, wants to install up to 112 wind turbines in Butler and Saunders counties. Bluestem Energy of Omaha wants to construct two near David City, the county seat.

Due to the lack of county zoning regulations, residents of six townships in the county tried to take matters into their own hands by passing regulations to restrict wind farm development.

They adopted a set of regulations drafted by the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers, a group of concerned local residents.

The township regulations would have required wind turbines to be located at least 1,640 feet from township roads and properties not participating in the wind farm development, as well as would have included noise restrictions.

The Butler County Board came down hard on the townships. In a letter, County Attorney Julie Reiter cited state statutes that list powers granted to townships. “The regulations passed by the electors in your township exceed those powers,” Reiter wrote.

One earlier land-use controversy involved a dairy that wanted to pump liquid manure under roads so it could be applied to fields through center pivot irrigation systems. In that case, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the right of the townships to ban installation of the pipelines under roads.

A controversy two years ago involved a planned new hog operation near Bellwood Lakes and the Brandenburgh Lake housing development.

Neighbors who objected to the hog operation didn’t get much sympathy from the county board. Livestock odor, said County Board member Max Birkel, is “part of living in agricultural Butler County.

Butler County has a reputation as a place where anything goes. For example, tons of garbage from Omaha are trucked in regularly to a privately owned landfill in the county.

At one time, the Butler County Board started working on a comprehensive plan, but it was never popular with board members, and the county board eventually disbanded the planning commission.

Events since then may have made the advantages of zoning – protection of property values, for example – more apparent. As County Board member Dave Potter put it, “Some folks want some rules and regulations.” Even in Butler County.