Three hours wasn’t enough Wednesday afternoon for the Codington County Planning and Zoning Commission to come up with an updated draft of wind tower ordinances that met the satisfaction of participating and non-participating landowners.
In front of more than 50 people gathered into the Codington County Extension Complex, the commission took public comments as it set out to revise many current ordinances sparked in part by the announcement from wind energy companies of plans to build hundreds of towers in northeast South Dakota, including Xcel Energy’s initial 100-tower Dakota Range wind farm north of Watertown scheduled to begin operation in 2021.
Although wind energy firms have emphasized the millions of dollars in tax revenues wind farms would bring to the counties and municipalities, along with the state, non-participating landowners want the commission to consider the negative impact such wind farms may have to non-participants living near the towers that can measure up to 485 feet high.
Those effects include possible health problems caused by the flicker of the tower blades at sunrise and sunset as well as the continuous rotation of the towers emitting whooshing sounds measuring up to 50 decibels – about the volume of a refrigerator or a conversation at home.
“It’s your job to take care of the health, safety and care of all your residents,” Jean Stevens, a Clark County resident who lives near the planned Crocker Hills wind project, told the commission.
Among meeting attendees, Stevens found plenty of agreement and a few echoed her concerns about non-participants being left out in the cold.
Patrick Lynch, in particular, expressed concern of the potential adverse effects wind farms could have on people looking to live in the countryside.
“If we put these large bunch of wind farms out in the country…people are probably not going to want to live next to them,” he said.
Not everyone at the meeting agreed that wind turbines would cause negative health effects.
Chris Olson, an environmental health consultant, said that the 50 decibel level is considered acceptable and that any adverse noise would be unusual.
“If it’s too loud, then something is wrong with the turbine itself,” he said, adding that the county should consider putting in a good complaint process to handle such issues.
While participating land owners and tower supporters were largely silent at the meeting, they appeared to have a greater voice on the written comments sent over the last several months to Codington County Zoning Officer Luke Muller. According to Muller, he received 28 comments generally supporting wind energy while receiving eight comments generally against, with two classified as neutral.
There wasn’t consensus on how far setbacks should be established and at what point should they be measured – either from the property line or a neighboring structure. The board seemed to initially favor Muller’s suggested setbacks of 110 percent of the tower height for setbacks from participating property to 1,000 feet from non-participating land, plus 2 1/2 feet for each vertical foot of towers measuring over 500 feet high.
Some citizens, however, wanted the setbacks to be further, with one gentleman suggesting a three-quarter mile, or 3,960 feet, from non-participating properties.
“Basically, as non-participating people, we just want our property respected,” one gentleman said. “We don’t want to be overrun by big wind. We don’t want the setbacks to be where we can’t do anything with our property anymore because they’re putting towers so close that I’m no longer allowed to plant a tree or build a shed.”
With a wide gulf still appearing to separate the two sides more than two-and-a-half hours into Wednesday’s meeting and not all of the pertinent ordinance sections discussed, Commission Chair Bob Fox said another meeting was needed to possibly work out the differences and come up with an acceptable ordinance.
“We are trying to balance this between all the residents,” he said.
The next meeting has not been scheduled. When a date is announced, a public notice will appear in the Public Opinion and an agenda will be published on the county Planning and Zoning website at codington.org/zoning-office/ under the Upcoming Meetings section.
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