What began as a six-month moratorium for new wind tower conditional use permits has turned into a full review of Antelope County Zoning Regulations and nearly double the number of pages in the plan.
Original county zoning regulations were written in 2012.
In June 2016, the Antelope County Commissioners voted to place a hold on wind energy CUPs following approval of the Upstream wind farm and 20 associated conditions.
Many turbines in the original 168 Upstream project will be located in the northern part of the county.
After drafting a new zoning plan, the Antelope County Planning Commission held a public hearing Tuesday, July 11 to hear testimony on the new proposal.
Planning commissioners in attendance were Matt Klabenes, Phyllis Perdew, Bob Krutz, Mark Smith, Ron Rice, Dave Miller, Dan Zwingman and Kurt Rakow. Member Greg Wortman was absent.
The meeting was called into recess as it neared 10 p.m. with a continuance held Monday, July 24.
Wortman was present on July 24 with Zwingman absent. Approximately 40 individuals were in attendance.
Chairman Smith conducted the meeting and public hearing.
Keith Marvin, of Marvin Planning Associates, a consultant working with the local commission and Zoning Administrator Liz Doerr addressed potential changes to the county plan.
New regulations contain sections relating to airport hazard mitigation, wind towers and flood plains.
Marvin also suggested the board include pipeline regulations, limiting the number of new homes constructed on each quarter of land, subdivisions in rural areas and setback reviews.
Wind Energy Changes
Smith outlined guidelines for those testifying in favor or opposed to guidelines to limit their dialogue to a three-minute period.
Doerr read correspondence from Kevin and Sonia Rittscher and Kimberly Hansen in support of wind energy.
Marvin said the new measurement for setback distances would be measured from the center of the base of the turbine instead of the center of the hub.
The commission targeted change in the setback distance. Currently, turbines must be 2,000 feet from the residence of a non-participating landowner. The new regulations require a 2,700 ft. distance.
A previous stipulation of turbine construction 1,000 ft. from a participating landowner will be removed.
Kurtz, Perdew and Rakow voted in favor of leaving the distance at 1,000 ft. with Zwingman, Klabenes, Rice, Smith and Miller opposed.
“If it’s their property and their tower, they can put it however close they want to their house,” said Smith.
Lonnie Weidner of Humphrey said, “I believe that in the past you’ve been very thorough in your decision-making and you’ve implemented some restrictions on the last go-around. I’m a little confused as to why we’re changing those restrictions now when we haven’t even implemented the last phase that you approved,” Weidner said.
Aaron Rice, a local farmer, engaged in a family operation with his father said, “I think if you regulate the towers to where they will not fit in a corner you are killing an opportunity that exists in our county with our resources that we have.” Rice told the board if they want people to come back to the area, opportunities need to be available.
Also speaking in favor of wind energy was Stan Heithoff of Elgin. Heithoff serves on the Elgin School Board and told the planning commission that within the past three years, the district has received approximately a million dollars in nameplate capacity tax due to wind energy.
Previous regulations addressing clustering of towers defined clustering as two or more turbines within one-half mile of each other. New regulations will allow two turbines within the 2,700 ft. setback to a distance of 4,000 ft. of a non-participating landowner home with no restrictions placed beyond 4,000 feet.
Following discussion both nights of the hearing, the board opted to not address medical conditions and instead, defer the matter on a case-by-case basis and delegate the county commissioners to make the ruling.
No regulations will be included.
It took three votes before the planning commission agreed on regulations for ice sling. Smith, Perdew, Miller, Rakow, Rice, Zwingman and Klabenes voted in favor of a calculation of 1.5 times the blade length with ice-breaking procedure and 1.5 times total height without ice-breaking procedures with the center of the blade hub as the measurement point.
“I am not for a decibel level at all for the simple reason that it will cost the county money and there will never be an agreement on what it’s over,” Klabenes said. “We’ve done tests and there’s nobody that will agree on it.”
Smith, Kurtz, Perdew, Rakow, Rice and Zwingman voted in favor of the new draft regulations, which do not include a noise restriction. The board discussed the reasoning for excluding a noise level is due to an increased setback distance.
Other issues discussed to be included or changed in the new zoning plan include:
Density of Residences
Marvin suggested the new plan address the number of homes that can be constructed per quarter in rural areas. He said the reason he placed a density restriction in the zoning parameters was to minimize conflicts with potential litigation with landowners.
“It’s to minimize conflict with city slickers,” said Marvin.
Questions from audience and board members centered around restrictions of homes on family farms or operations.
Marvin said if the homeowner was employed by the business, the two home restriction would not apply.
Bill Marx submitted email correspondence to Doerr opposing the two home limit. He said Madison County has a limit of one home per 40 acres.
Tom and Bill Thiele, owners of Thiele Dairy near Clearwater, spoke against the home restriction. An issue raised was permission of home construction for non-family employees.
Smith said, “I don’t even know why we need to have any kind of housing restriction per quarter section.”
The board voted to not include a stipulation on the number of homes allowed to be constructed.
Animal Units and Setbacks
Much discussion took place on separation of construction near livestock facilities.
Marvin told the board the new regulations would make the distance the same from every direction of a facility. Currently, distances for construction north and south of a unit are different than construction on the eastern or western side.
The distance allowed for new construction will be based according to animal units. One animal unit consists of any of the following: cow/calf pair, one slaughter feeder cattle, one-half horse, seven-tenths mature dairy cow, two and a half swine, 25 weened pigs, two sows with litters, 10 sheep, 11.15 goats, 50 turkeys, 100 chickens, five ducks if using a liquid manure handling system, 81.3 geese, 9.4 alpacas, 3.2 llamas or 7.5 emus.
Art Tanderup, Jim Koenig and Dean Smith spoke in favor of the county zoning board including pipeline restrictions in the new plan.
Klabenes and Rice said during previous discussions on the matter, the Antelope County Attorney recommended the matter not be addressed in the zoning plan. Rice said the county attorney relayed, “As far as federal and state regulations, he would have a hard time defending zoning.”
Tanderup said, “I don’t know what kind of research this county attorney has into this.” Tanderup talked of needing safety regulations near high pressure areas of the pipeline regardless of whether it carried tarsands or natural gas. He told those present that if a pipeline leaks, every well within a two-mile radius would need to be shut down.
Klabenes and Rice said they were not in favor of including pipeline regulations due to the potential legal implications.
“If the federal government says they are going to bring it in, the county is not going to have a say in it,” said Klabenes.
The board decided to place pipeline regulations on hold until legal counsel was obtained.
Marvin recommended the board remove the pipeline matter from regulations now, to allow the other regulations to move forward. He requested he be allowed to discuss the pipeline regulations with his legal counsel.
The new zoning plan must be approved by the Antelope County Commissioners before it is adopted.