PAXTON – The Ford County Board will meet again to discuss proposed changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms on Thursday night.
The board has called a special meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday in the second-floor courtroom at the courthouse in Paxton to discuss the changes. It will be the board’s second special meeting held on the topic since Dec. 1, when four newcomers joined the 12-member board.
In between the two special meetings was a meeting of the board’s zoning committee, which met for two hours Thursday night to try to hash out some of the changes to the ordinance that was originally enacted in 2009.
Board member Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts suggested the introduction to the ordinance contain language that states that the ordinance “is adopted for the sole protection of Ford County residents.”
“Nowhere in the original document does it talk about the health, safety and welfare of property owners,” Ihrke noted.
Later, board member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley suggested the county prohibit meteorological research towers, commonly referred to as “met towers,” from being built without a special-use permit first being issued by the county.
Wind-farm developers use meteorological towers to monitor wind speeds in an area to determine the best spots to place wind turbines. However, Cindy Ihrke said some are being constructed without prior knowledge by the county board.
With a special-use permit, Cindy Ihrke noted, “at least we’d know that these projects are in line and are being built. Right now, the tower goes up and the neighbors have no idea what’s going on.”
Erin Baker, senior development manager for Apex Clean Energy, the developer of the proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm near Gibson City and Sibley, pointed out that wind-farm developers are required to obtain a construction permit before building a meteorological tower. Ann Ihrke, however, noted that a building permit is not a special-use permit, adding that the board might not be aware of the issuance of a building permit even though the county’s zoning enforcement officer, Matt Rock, would be.
The committee’s chairman, Randy Ferguson of Gibson City, then said that he would want the county board to be aware of everything being built.
Later, Ann Ihrke suggested wind-farm developers be required to submit proposals for all turbine models they could potentially be using.
“In the past, some operators had been putting down a 400-foot tower (in their special-use permit applications) but then adding a 500-foot tower,” Ann Ihrke noted
The committee then discussed at length the issue of what is known as “shadow flicker.”
Ann Ihrke suggested the board add a provision to the ordinance requiring studies to be conducted on shadow flicker in “worst-case” weather, along with studies regarding noise and wildlife impacts.
Ann Ihrke then read a statement from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s website stating that county boards would need to submit complaints to the IEPA regarding such issues. Unfortunately, Ihrke said, the IEPA has discontinued its complaint-review process due to budget cuts and can no longer enforce it.
As a result, Ann Ihrke said, the Ford County Sheriff’s Office would have to be tasked with enforcing rules. Engineer Greg Gustafson said, however, that the sheriff’s office “doesn’t have the means to do it.”
The committee then discussed decommissioning requirements for wind turbines. The committee decided to replace “material” changes as defined in the ordinance’s existing language and replace it with “all changes.” Another change proposed is to require wind-farm operators to pay the county if it has to spend more than $50,000 to remove any turbine.
Meanwhile, the committee also proposed requiring that construction of a wind farm must start within one year of its special-use permit being approved.
Another change proposed was to require a turbine’s wiring to be buried at least six feet underground.
Also, the committee suggested requiring that each turbine be equipped with a lighting system that would allow the blinking red lights on top of turbines to be activated by an aircraft pilot, instead of the lights blinking on and off all night.
The committee also decided to seek full board approval on the height of fencing surrounding turbines.
After committee member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton pointed out that complaints were made about drainage issues after the Kelly Creek Wind Farm was completed near Kempton and Cabery, the committee decided to require wind-farm operators to be responsible for any drainage issues affecting non-participating landowners if that damage was caused by the wind farm. Cindy Ihrke asked if the matter would be transferable in case a project changed ownership, and Gustafson said it could.
Cindy Ihrke asked that a provision be included in the ordinance to require a wind-farm operator reimburse non-participating landowners in the event their property values decrease because of a wind farm. Ferguson, however, said a drop in property values could be caused by other factors besides wind farms, and he did not know if it would be the right idea.
Gustafson, meanwhile, said developers currently do not need to obtain a road-use agreement with the county and its townships prior to obtaining a special-use permit for a wind farm, but he said they could be required to do so if the board wishes to require it.
Later, committee members agreed to have the county board consider changes to the public hearing process for wind farms. While Ferguson said a public hearing would be too expensive, Ann Ihrke said the project developer would pay the cost of one.
A discussion was also held regarding a developer losing an entire project if a new house, for example, were to be built on land where a turbine is to be built. One suggested change would be for the county board to review a project one year into its permitted date if a specific tower has not been built.
Lastly, the committee discussed radio/television/Internet interference, which last year was a major concern among some residents living around the Kelly Creek Wind Farm in northern Ford County. Changes sought included the owner/operator of the wind farm being responsible to respond to an interference complaint within 30 days of it being made.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding