A review of Henry County’s Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance by the Henry County Commissioners doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon.
The WECS ordinance details county code regarding such things as setbacks, the distance from an industrial wind turbine to nearby property lines or dwellings, as well as acceptable noise levels the turbines create and other aspects of wind farm development. The current ordinance is several years old and many people, especially those persons concerned about wind farms coming to Henry County, have expressed the opinion it does not adequately protect the health and well-being of local citizens.
A committee was created to review the ordinance. It was supposed to make recommendations for changes to the measure, but the only suggested change that came out of the group would have decreased setbacks in some cases. The committee is no longer meeting and it appears its only recommendation may not have been acted on quickly enough to meet requirements set forth by state statute.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Henry County Commissioners, commissioner Ed Yanos made a motion to allow three hours of testimony, 90 minutes each from those against and those for wind development, at the April 12 meeting of the county leaders. That testimony would then be taken into consideration as the commissioners begin the process of reviewing the WECS ordinance prior to possibly making any changes to it.
Yanos said the approach he was suggesting would result in a long meeting, but it would “accomplish something that the planning commission has not been able to do at this point.”
County attorney Joel Harvey explained that changes to the zoning ordinance initiated by the commissioners have to be reviewed by the planning commission. The planning commission would hold a formal public hearing and could then make a recommendation in favor of the changes, against the changes, or elect to make no recommendation. The matter would then come back before the commissioners.
“Ultimately, the commissioners are in the driver’s seat,” Harvey said.
Several citizens in attendance then asked questions about the process and shared opinions about how a review of the WECS ordinance should be handled.
For example, it was suggested that commissioners Kim Cronk and Yanos should not participate in the ordinance review or be permitted to suggest any amendments to it because both have filed a conflict of interest regarding specific wind development proposals.
It also was suggested that public testimony not be divided into those for and against wind farms; rather, those testifying should be allowed to share their opinion regardless of their position on the matter, an audience member said. How to provide a level playing field so both sides are treated fairly and equally was debated for several minutes with no apparent answer found.
The back and forth between the commissioners and audience members continued for several minutes. Commissioner Butch Baker eventually confirmed those in attendance were in agreement the current ordinance should be revisited and amended. Yanos was among those who agreed.
“I think all of you do not think that the current wind ordinance is restrictive enough. I don’t think it’s restrictive enough,” Yanos said. “But if we do nothing, you’re stuck with the current wind ordinance. So my question to you is, Why don’t we look at it? Why don’t we hear from you what it should be, hear from others who think a different version and we start the process. You may not agree with what I think and I may not agree with what you think, but right now we have a wind ordinance that none of us think is adequate, so let’s look at it.”
Various objections and questions from audience members continued for several additional minutes. Baker noted the choice before the commissioners was to review the ordinance and make any changes agreed to or not review it and leave it as is. Remonstration from audience members continued.
Roughly 55 minutes after making the motion to allow public input about the WECS ordinance at the commissioners’ April 12 meeting, Yanos withdrew it.
Baker indicated either the planning commission or the commissioners could choose to review the WECS ordinance at some point in the future, but at present there are no plans for that to happen.
The commissioners next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 12 in the old circuit courtroom on the second floor of the Henry County Courthouse. It is open to the public.
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