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Wind-turbine setbacks still an unresolved issue in Ford County

PAXTON – Instead of making it so wind turbines can be no closer than 2,250 feet from any property line in Ford County without a waiver from a neighboring landowner, some county board members think there should be two different setbacks implemented – a larger one applying to land occupied by a residence and a smaller one applying to nonresidential land.

The issue of setbacks – the minimum distance a turbine must be sited from a property line or structure – has been easily the most contentious topic as the county board has spent the past two years working on revisions to its ordinance regulating wind farms.

And even though the board hopes to be able to vote on the package of proposed revisions as early as October, the setback issue continues to be unresolved.

Last December, seven of the 12 board members indicated they would support a turbine setback of 2,250 feet from property lines to protect nonparticipating residents from the nuisances turbines can create, such as noise or shadow flicker, or the dangers associated with turbines catching fire or breaking.

During a meeting of the board’s zoning committee on Monday night, however, two board members said they feel such a setback should only apply to residential land, not nonresidential properties.

“If it’s about safety,” board member Randy Ferguson said, “safety involves people, not property. It’s hard to hurt dirt.”

Ferguson, a Gibson City resident who serves as the zoning committee’s chairman, and Chase McCall, a Gibson City resident who serves as the finance committee’s chairman, both would like the board to implement a lesser setback for nonresidential land. Ferguson said the distance is negotiable, in his opinion, but he feels it needs to be less than 2,250 feet from a property line.

The proposal appears to be in response from concerns expressed by wind-farm developers that a 2,250-foot setback would make construction of a wind farm extremely difficult, if not impossible. Wind-farm developers said last December that even a 1,640-foot setback from property lines could negatively impact their planned projects – perhaps even “killing” them.

Developers have been asking for no greater than a 1,500-foot setback – and not from property lines but instead from “primary structures” such as homes. That is 500 feet larger than the setback currently required under Ford County’s wind ordinance, which was enacted in 2008.

Meanwhile, board member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley said she and some other board members do not support a reduced setback applying to nonresidential properties. Ihrke noted that just because land does not contain a residence does not mean that the land is not used by people – for hunting, fishing or other recreational activities, for example. She said those people need to be protected, as well.

Ihrke also noted that wind-farm developers can always ask nonparticipating landowners to sign “good-neighbor” agreements that often provide compensation to landowners for agreeing to sign a waiver of the setback requirement, allowing turbines to be built closer than the ordinance allows.

“We feel like that could be done, rather than making a different setback,” Ihrke said.

Ihrke said the zoning committee reviewed about half of the proposed ordinance revisions Monday night after receiving a draft of the document from County Clerk & Recorder Amy Frederick.

Ihrke said some corrections were made Monday, and another committee meeting will be set at the board’s August meeting for the purpose of continuing the review and tweaking of the ordinance.