PAXTON – Despite hearing nearly 2 1/2 hours of public comments on the matter, the Ford County Planning Commission will not be voting on proposed changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms.
The commission’s chairman, Jerry Oyer of rural Gibson City, issued a statement in advance of Thursday’s meeting, which had been continued from Sept. 6, stating that the meeting “will still be held, but no action will be taken on the agenda items.”
Because public comment was completed at the Sept. 6 meeting, the only item remaining on the agenda was a vote on the proposed changes to the wind-farm ordinance.
The county’s zoning enforcement officer, Matt Rock, said the meeting will only involve taking roll call and then closing the meeting.
“There will be no further discussion on the agenda items,” Oyer said in his statement, which was provided to the Ford County Record by Rock. “The meeting will simply be held to adjourn the previous meeting that was held on Thursday, Sept. 6.”
Rock said the proposed changes to the wind-farm ordinance will now be considered by the county’s zoning board of appeals during a public hearing set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the courthouse in Paxton. The county board will then take its own vote, possibly at its Oct. 8 meeting.
Rock said no action is being taken by the commission because it has been learned that the commission, by state law, does not have the legal power to make or recommend proposed changes to ordinances.
Under the Illinois Counties Code, a regional planning commission is responsible for making “a plan” for the region to “best promote health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity, efficiency and economy in the process of development and the general welfare of said region.” The commission is described as a “fact-finding body” for the “planning and development” of the region.
The law does not say anything about the commission being allowed to make changes or recommend changes to ordinances.
Kirk Allen and John Kraft, the cofounders of the nonprofit Edgar County Watchdogs organization, had expressed concerns about the commission not knowing its powers and duties during the Sept. 6 meeting.
“By a show of hands, how many of you have read your powers and duties in the Illinois Compiled Statutes for the seat you are holding right now?” Allen asked the seven-member commission, receiving no response. “If you haven’t read your powers and duties, you don’t know what they are. You only know what somebody may have told you they are. I would encourage you to read them, and I would encourage you to table any and all action until you’ve done that.”
Meanwhile, Allen and Kraft also expressed concerns about two commissioners having a conflict of interest in discussing the proposed revisions to the wind-farm ordinance.
Kraft said he had proof in hand that two commissioners had signed contracts with wind-farm developers, and he advised them to not take part in the discussion and resign.
“You can’t even sit here and discuss the issue or even entertain any comments, either in favor or against it,” Kraft told commissioners.
Most of the comments the commission received during the Sept. 6 meeting were related to setbacks – specifically, the minimum distance wind turbines must be from homes. Although the package of proposed ordinance changes included a proposal to more than double the setback from homes, some members of the public insisted that the county’s plan was inadequate to protect the safety and health of its rural residents, while others – many of whom were representatives of wind farm development firms – voiced the need for less-restrictive rules than had been proposed.
Representatives of Apex Clean Energy pushed for a 1,500-foot setback from homes, noting that the 2,250-foot setback the county has proposed would be “so restrictive that it is exceeded only by one other openly anti-wind county in Illinois.” They said such a setback would “send a clear message that Ford County is not a place to do business.”
Apex is developing the proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm in the Gibson City and Sibley area, and it has applied for an extension of its special-use permit for the project. The permit was initially granted in November 2009.
The zoning board of appeals has set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the courthouse to consider the requested extension of the permit.