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Group hopes to change turbine regulations in Gage County

A group of area residents concerned about potential damaging effects from wind turbines is hoping Gage County officials adopt more strict regulations regarding wind energy.

Prairie Wind Watchers is the group spearheading the requested amendments to Gage County’s wind regulations. The group is focusing on two specific changes it would like to see made by the county.

A primary concern is increasing current setback requirements that stipulate turbines must be 3/8 miles from residences.

“First of all, we know that ⅜ mile is not a safe distance for a wind turbine to be placed from a home,” said Yvonne Mihulka-Poole, who lives west of Cortland. “A 500-600 foot wind turbine needs to be at least one mile from residences to provide enough protection for the people of Gage County.”

The group is also asking officials to make changes to how decibel levels are calculated.

Wording in the current regulations allows wind energy companies to conduct their own testing, which some think gives them an unfair advantage.

“We have learned from other studies and other counties that some testing can be manipulated,” Mihulka-Poole said. “We need to clarify this in our Gage County regulations.”

Roughly 40 people attended the Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission’s meeting Tuesday night to voice their opinions and concerns about the wind regulations.

Judy Daugherty, who lives in northern Gage County near Hallam, said that turbines have grown since the previous setback requirement was adopted.

“The setback in place now was decided upon the turbine being 300 feet tall,” she said. “We’re told we may be looking at a 500-600 turbine. Any time you look at a height increase you need a setback increase. That’s just common sense.”

Daryl Schoenbeck has lived in rural Cortland for nearly 30 years. He also spoke in support of increasing setbacks, citing the impact on property values as one reason the commission should consider changing its regulations.

“Do wind turbines affect property values? There’s a lot of opinions out there on that subject,” he said. “It seems like no one knows for sure. Common sense to me says yes, it does. Not everyone wants to live among wind turbines.”

No action was taken by the commission Tuesday, including a decision if the group will open the wind regulations for consideration.

If it does decide to consider amending the regulations, a public hearing would be held at a future planning and zoning meeting. The group would then make a recommendation regarding the regulations to the County Board of Supervisors, which has final say in if they would be changed or not.

Planning and Zoning chairman Dennis Rosene said the commission tries to reach decisions that are a compromise for all residents of Gage County.

“All this time we’ve been trying to create an environment that through our comprehensive plan recognizes our advantages that we have, nice things we have and resources we have in Gage County, and those resources are ag as our number one industry,” he said. “We created a comprehensive plan with that in mind and then we also view sheds that people like to look at and we keep that in mind.”

The current wind regulations were approved in 2016.