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County to revise wind turbine ordinance

Wabash County’s ordinance regulating commercial wind turbines may soon become even more strict.

The county’s Plan Commission will vote on a proposal to increase restrictions on turbines at its 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, meeting.

According to Plan Commission Director Mike Howard, the new restrictions are to further prevent wind turbine companies from setting up shop in Wabash County.

“We’re making it very difficult for them to meet our setbacks. The increase in the size of the units has made it so they don’t need as many, so that it’s a little easier to find a location where they can set,” he said.

“So, we have amended our ordinance again, and it will be before our board at our next meeting to increase our setbacks more. If that’s approved, it will go before the commissioners for final approval.”

The county commissioners approved an update to the original 2012 ordinance in October 2016 that reduced the allowable noise level from wind turbines to no more than 32 decibels outside of a structure, and required that turbine owners install shadow flicker countermeasures.

The new proposal will increase the minimum distance a commercial turbine must be from a residence, business or property line, and the allowable amount of shadow flicker.

“Basically, we’re looking at three-quarter of a mile, minimum, from a non-participating residential structure or business. We were at a half mile, and they seemed to think that they could spot some at that.

We’ve lowered our decibel rating to a minimum of 32 decibels outside of a residential structure, and they said – this was in 2016 when they were here – that they didn’t feel like they could meet that,” Howard said.

“We’re just not a fan of them, and we want to make sure we keep our setbacks up to where it will be almost virtually impossible for them to be here.”

Scott Givens, chairman of the Planning Commission Board, elaborated on the proposed new property line distance requirements.

“Instead of being so many feet, it’s going to have to be double the height [of the turbine]. So if it’s 200 feet [tall], it’s going to have to be 400 feet from the property line,” he said.

He noted that the proposal – and ordinance – focuses on commercial turbines, and that the county is more friendly toward smaller, non-commercial turbines.

“We have a few [noncommercial turbines] around. Those aren’t intrusive to the neighbors. They still have setbacks, but are more aesthetically pleasing,” he said.

According to Howard, the county’s position on commercial turbines is the result of years of research and discussion.

“The plan commission board actually went up to Benton County to visit wind farms in 2012 when they were being developed or built, and in operation at the same time – noise is a factor,” he said.

He also noted that shadow flicker caused by the spinning blades of the turbines is a concern.

“The shadow flicker problem is huge – I don’t care what they say, it’s an issue – and we’ve looked at other counties and how they address shadow flicker, and it really didn’t help the residents that much. Our current ordinance allows a certain number of minutes per day, but only a limited number of days per year. We’re even taking that out to where there can be no shadow flicker whatsoever on a residential structure or business,” he said.

Givens noted that there are several other concerns related to the installation of the turbines that have guided the county’s opinion.

“It crushes field tile, when they put those lanes all the way back off the road, that’s something that you have to chase forever,” he said.

“It tears your roads up, and they can’t make the corners so you have to remove the signs.”

Additionally, he said, Wabash County sees no economic benefit from allowing wind farms.

“There’s no economic benefit, other than you can tax them, but we don’t feel that that’s [worth it],” he said.

“It doesn’t bring any jobs to our county, it creates a lot of conflict with neighbors that we’re not looking for.

“I don’t think for our community that it’s beneficial. What I’ve seen in other communities where this has been proposed, there’s a handful of people that want it, and most people don’t want it. You’re basically forcing [changes to] the whole panoramic view of the county.”