PAXTON – Three weeks after a heated public hearing held by the Ford County Planning Commission produced feedback from both sides of the wind-farm debate, the process repeated itself again last Wednesday night in a hearing held by the Ford County Zoning Board of Appeals.
During last week’s public hearing at the Ford County Courthouse in Paxton, supporters and opponents of proposed setbacks between wind turbines and houses and/or property lines voiced their opinion to the zoning board of appeals, which has been tasked with reviewing changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms as proposed by the county board’s zoning committee.
The hearing began at 7 p.m. and continued uninterrupted except for two short breaks until after 10 p.m. The hearing was then continued to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.
The hearing was nearly identical to the one held last month by the planning commission. On the pro-wind farm side of the issue, supporters – many who represented wind farm developers – wore light-blue T-shirts with the words “Wind works for Ford County,” and they again asked for a 1,500-foot setback between wind turbines and “primary structures” such as homes – rather than the 2,250-foot setback that has been proposed by the zoning committee. Meanwhile, those supporting a 3,250-foot setback between turbines and property lines – instead of homes – wore neon yellow shirts with similar messaging.
Speakers at the hearing were much the same, presenting similar arguments that they did a month ago.
Confusion abounded at the start of the meeting after the zoning board’s chairman, Ron Moore of Gibson City, informed the audience that the board would adopt policies limiting public comment to a certain number of minutes per speaker. The county’s zoning enforcement officer, Matt Rock, clarified that the change would only go into effect at future meetings.
Following the vote on the amended change, public comment began.
First to speak on the issue was Gibson City resident Jerry Wright. Wright said he and his wife, Karen, are attempting to purchase land in the country near a proposed wind farm site, adding that a landowner is willing to sell land to him.
Wright said the wind turbine issue was a concern to him.
“Anywhere from 1,000 (feet) on some proposals to the 3,200 (feet) that some people are asking, the 3,200-foot setback is where it should be and it should be from the property line,” Wright said. “My big thing is setbacks, safety, sound and health.”
Wright asked that Apex Clean Energy and any other wind farm developer seek permission before building on his land, stressing fairness to the residents.
“I cannot build a house or any building on anyone else’s property without their permission,” Wright explained. “Why should the windmill operators build on my property without my permission or compensation?”
Rural Melvin resident Dean Dillon spoke out against shorter setbacks for wind turbines, describing how it could affect his property.
Also in agreement was Mary Ann Harris, who operates Mary Ann’s Country Kennels, a nine-employee dog grooming and pet boarding business, out of a building on her farm located west of Elliott. Harris described the impact a wind turbine might have on dogs that stay at her business, saying that the distance from a wind turbine to the business would be relatively short.
“From my house to my doghouse is 241 feet,” Harris explained. “Then I went from my doghouse to the edge of my property on the east, and that measured 68 feet. You add those two things together, and if they measure from my house, I’m going to have a windmill 700 feet from my doghouse.
“I don’t think that’s safe, considering access. I’ve been hearing of ice throws and noise. I’m worried about the dogs.”
Harris said dogs can get stressed because of wind turbines’ noise and shadows, which in turn could damage her business.
“Stress brings along a lot of things with dogs,” Harris said. “I’m very, very concerned about the noise. I have no idea what these things are going to sound like. If the dogs don’t sleep, they’re sick, and in turn the people aren’t going to be very happy with me, and my business of over 40 years would be gone. If there’s no dogs to take care of, there’s no work.”
Expressing sentiment with that of several speakers at the hearing, Harris said she was in favor of a wind turbine setbacks starting along the property line and not at the edge of a residential structure.
“I don’t know how people could measure from a house (and) put up a windmill,” Harris said. “It has to be on the edge of my property, and it needs to be more than 1,500 feet away. That’s going to keep my animals and my employees and me safe.”
It was not just dogs’ health problems that was brought up, but humans’ health issues, as well. Emily Lattz pleaded with board members to consider the well-being of rural residents with health issues, and weigh it against the monetary windfall to a landowner signing a contract.
Lattz, a resident of Ford County since 1996, lives on a farm in Garber with her husband, Jeff, and their children.
Jeff Lattz’s story was profiled this past July in the Ford County Record. A longtime Champaign firefighter, Lattz has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since being burned in a Nov. 16, 2013, restaurant blaze in Champaign.
Emily Lattz said that while most of her neighbors are ardent supporters of wind farms and she holds nothing against their decisions, she also worries about her property being infringed upon since that was not clear.
“All of these farmers have every right to seek profit and money, but it’s a little bit different when you consider infringing upon property of others,” Lattz said.
Lattz said she has spoken with landowners who have encountered problems with turbines but due to a gag order in their contracts are unable to speak publicly against the wind farm developers.
“They tell me that they take coffee into the other room and that they have trouble with shadows, noise, and if there is any way they could get out of this situation they could, but they don’t have that option and they can’t even talk to people about it legally,” Lattz said.
Lattz said she has hoped her children might choose to live near her in the future, but that wish appears to be slipping away should wind farm developers not want new houses being built near turbines.
Lattz said no one had spoken with her about the wind turbines’ impact on her family’s living conditions.
“If this is such a wonderful thing, why is a gag order necessary?” Lattz asked. “If this is going to be a win for everybody, it shouldn’t be bothering anyone.”
Addressing her husband’s health situation toward the end of her remarks, Lattz asked board members to think about her husband’s living conditions and sacrifices he has made.
“I know you’ve all heard of the health problems these wind turbines can cause, and these are all triggers for PTSD,” Lattz said. “My husband has served his community and has done his best. Now he faces the possibility of having issues in our own home on our own property because of what someone else is wanting to do to make money. It will infringe upon our happiness, our right, our property, our life and our future. That really seems unfair.”
Much of the wind farm opponents’ focus came on the subject of whether setbacks should be based on the distance from a house or property lines, as many speakers spoke openly about.
Rural Melvin resident Mike Meunier addressed zoning board members directly, urging them to consider the effect wind turbines would have on his farm.
“Some people in this room seem to want a third party to come in and dictate how landowners can use their property,” Meunier said. “The people holding the wind farm contracts in this room have stopped listening to me and my problems, because it’s a fact that many of them have exempted themselves from windmills on their own homesteads.”
Meunier noted that he has spent 22 years fixing his property, remodeling and adding onto his house while demolishing old structures and building new ones in their place. Meunier said this is why properties are considered investments.
“You’ve had no problem recognizing all my land that you’ve taxed me on,” Meunier said. “You’re infringing on my right to enjoy my property, to build on my property.
“(Landowners) must have read the contract, so they are pro-money,” he added.
Meunier charged county officials with taking away value of his land so that wind-farm developers could attempt to build turbines, with much of their power, he said, going not to Ford County but instead to large cities.
Meunier also urged county officials to listen to residents and not cave to the demands of wind-farm developers.
“You will kill my property value as you try to limit how I can use my property for the rest of my life,” Meunier told the zoning board. “My neighbors have done nothing to deserve this callous action of giving up our freedoms so the county can squeeze more money out of our pockets because a third party threatens that it has to be that way or they’ll leave.”
Meunier also disputed the long-term impacts on local communities, saying that the wind farm would likely only benefit Ford County for a few years.
“Wind farms depreciate, and the state decreases its payment to schools,” Meunier said. “The money stream will eventually slow to a trickle, and in the meantime, rural landowners and homeowners will be forced to wait years to get our lives and property rights back.
“I will now take my seat so the paid sales reps and engineers can dispute what I just said,” Meunier added.
Noticeably absent from last Wednesday’s meeting was Ted Hartke, a civil engineer from Sidney who delivered lengthy remarks during last month’s planning commission hearing. Hartke is a noted wind-farm opponent who has cited his move from a dream home in Vermilion County a few years back as his opposition to the projects.
Denny Jordan, a rural Gibson City resident who runs a livestock operation, described the trouble outside influences have on the wind-farm discussion in Ford County. Jordan specifically mentioned a recent letter in the Ford County Record from a Wisconsin resident and an engineer from Michigan who spoke at last Wednesday’s hearing.
Jordan referred to Hartke as “an articulate speaker who is great at stirring the pot” of anti-wind sentiment among county residents. Jordan mentioned that Ford County already has two operating wind farms and also mentioned the defeated Livingston County wind farm, in which Hartke joined the fight which eventually pitted townships against each other.
Others who spoke at last Wednesday night’s hearing included longtime anti-wind activists Ann Ihrke and Cindy Ihrke, who both delivered prepared remarks. An engineer from Michigan spoke for nearly a half-hour while also presenting a project showing that wind turbines are taller than the St. Louis Arch.
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