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County planners table wind turbine vote

Jasper County Plan Commissioners have voted unanimously to table a vote on recommending whether to update an existing county ordinance regulating industrial-grade wind turbines or to ban the structures completely.

The Monday night decision came after commissioners spent more than two hours going over a revamp of the ordinance, which, if approved and then passed on to county commissioners for a final decision, would put into place far more stringent regulations on the distance from residential dwellings and institutions turbines could be sited.

The commission’s decision to at least place a moratorium on any county turbine approvals until its September meeting so members could digest the proposed changes, which came during a public hearing at the Jasper County Fairgrounds, came as a major disappointment to scores of residents who turned out to oppose turbines and were pushing planners for an outright ban Monday.

Jasper County’s current ordinance governing wind turbines, says plan commission President Gerrit DeVries, is woefully outdated, particularly since allows the generators to be sited as close as 1,000 feet to structures including residential dwellings, and the modern windmills are approximately twice the height. DeVries points out that such close proximity results in people being subjected to turbine noise and shadow flicker created by sunlight passing through the spinning blades.

Monday’s meeting, which invited public comment, was filled with a vast majority of county residents pushing for an outright ban for reasons that went little beyond “I don’t want to look at them.”

Plan commission members went through a number of proposed changes to the current ordinance before the audience. Among the more notable changes were setbacks of one mile from above-ground utilities, railroad lines, and the property line of any landowner without a participating interest in a sited windmill; a one-mile setback from any land zoned for residential or institutional use; a two-mile setback from the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers in light of wildlife – particularly bald eagles – near those waterways; turbine noise restrictions of 35 decibels or less; and a $1 million per turbine paid by the builder to be held in escrow should the windmills be decommissioned anytime in the future.

A proposed 3.5-mile minimum setback from confined animal feeding operations, of CAFOs, which would cover developments such as Fair Oaks Farms – the distance was tabulated so there would be no interference to the farm’s lactating cows – raised the hackles of one resident in the audience.

“It’s kind of insulting as a human being,” he told planners. “They should be three and a half miles from animals but only one mile from me? Something’s gotta change.”

In response, there was limited discussion over whether residential setbacks should be expanded from one mile to two miles. However, there was no clear indication whether that change would be written into the plan commission’s ordinance rewrite to county commissioners.

Partly as a result of little point-by-point discussion, vote, or outright agreement or disagreement by the planners, they voted unanimously to table further action to its September meeting. DeVries, however, was somewhat agitated by the motion to table the matter.

“We’ve been fiddling around with this for too long,” he told commissioners. “I for one want to listen to them [residents]. We can keep kicking this down the road, but you’re asking for trouble.”