PAXTON – The Ford County Board will decide early next month what amendments will be made to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms and when the county’s moratorium on the permitting of additional wind farms will be lifted.
On Monday night, the board scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the large courtroom at the courthouse in Paxton to review the Ford County Zoning Board of Appeals’ recent recommendations for revising the ordinance and to pore over sworn testimony from the public hearings that the zoning board held this fall.
County Board Chairman Randy Berger of Gibson City had first suggested the meeting be held Nov. 26, but board member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton suggested the second date instead, given that four board members will be giving up their seats to four newcomers at the start of next month.
“I don’t see getting this done in one meeting,” McQuinn said. “Let’s wait until the new board is seated.”
The 12-member board will seat its new members during a reorganizational meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3. At least two of the newcomers are known to be strong critics of the wind industry – Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts and her mother-in-law, Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley. Chuck Aubry of Gibson City and Debbie Smith of Paxton will also join the board.
Departing board members were recognized Monday by Berger as they were presented with certificates for their service. Recognized were Jon Clark of Sibley (four years on the board), Dave Hastings of Paxton (11 years) and Floyd “Bud” Otto Jr. of Roberts (24 years).
County Clerk & Recorder Amy Frederick presented Berger with his certificate and thanked him for his work as chairman.
“I always had good boards to work with,” said Berger. “I wish the best to the new board.”
Also Monday night, the board approved its annual budget and appropriation ordinance with a slightly larger deficit than anticipated but miniscule compared to last year’s. Chase McCall of Gibson City, who serves as chairman of the finance committee, said the projected deficit in the general fund has grown from $6,149 to $23,000, but the difference represents income from the state in the form of a grant that is anticipated but not yet in the county’s possession. Last year’s deficit totaled $357,383, McCall said.
Also Monday night:
➜ The board agreed to amend the circuit clerk’s salary as well as grant pay increases to various department heads and hourly employees, including in the probation department. Changes were also made to the salaries of the public defender and assistant public defender.
➜ The board voted to hire a new auditor.
➜ The board approved hiring a full-time road deputy to fill a vacant position.
➜ The board agreed to contracts with the Button, Mona and Rogers road districts for winter snow plowing for $275 a mile for the season.
➜ The board re-appointed Joe Higgins, Adam Thorndyke and Tim Asay to the Ford County 911 Emergency Telephone System Board.
➜ The board set its holiday and meeting schedules.
➜ The board voted to adopt a public speaking policy. The policy limits each speaker to five minutes but allows for the time limit to be extended in five-minute increments at the discretion of a board meeting’s chairman. Four members who wanted less restriction voted against the policy – McQuinn, Clark, Gene May of Paxton and Tim Nuss of rural Roberts.
Plenty of speakers spoke up during the public-comment portion of the meeting, including:
➜ Karen Wright, who said the zoning board of appeals consisted of “five guys who didn’t know what they were doing” when they were considering the proposed revisions to the county’s wind ordinance. Wright said she and others were rudely treated by them.
➜ Joanne Fetzner, who told the board that its job is to listen and gather information from residents. “It’s wrong to restrict our time to speak,” Fetzger said.
➜ Cindy Ihrke, who read from and passed out a written statement from Phillip Luetkehans, the attorney representing Ford County Residents for Property Rights. Luetkehans contends that the zoning board of appeals, under the county’s zoning ordinance, had no legal right to modify the proposed amendments to the wind farm ordinance. Luetkehans said that if the county board does not follow the proper procedures he outlined, the county would subject its new ordinance to attacks by developers or nearby landowners and open itself to costly legislation.
➜ Erin Baker, senior development manager for Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., who presented handouts that contained information about ice on wind turbine blades, tower collapses and blade failure. Baker said her company has renewed its special-use permit for the proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm near Gibson City and Sibley for another three years.
➜ Roberts Village Board President Rick Flessner, who read a resolution his village board approved. The resolution says that the village “opposes anything less” than the limitations proposed by the zoning committee of the county board regarding revisions to the wind ordinance. Roberts officials want the county to approve a 3,250-foot setback between turbines and property lines – instead of homes – and limit a turbine’s tip height to 500 feet, the same height as currently allowed.
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