December 19, 2019

Setback requirements, property rights take center stage at Shenandoah wind turbine town hall

Ryan Matheny |

Issues dealing with property rights and setback regulations took center stage at a town hall meeting regarding wind energy in Page County.

The meeting was the second forum hosted this week by the Page County Board of Supervisors and was held in the Bricker Room of the Shenandoah Public Safety Center. Speaking during the meeting, Page County resident Jacob Holmes says the county’s current setback regulations – which require a wind turbine to be 1,500 feet from a non-participating home – have a serious gap.

“This ordinance allow for the company – in cooperation with your neighbor – to build a windmill by the numbers discussed with a 200-foot windmill, 220 feet from your property line or as close as,” said Holmes. “This would mean by the numbers given for your home setback distance for a non-participant at 1,500 feet, you would have about 1,280 feet of your land that you are no longer able to use in the way you wish as a landowner. You have your right to safely build on your own land that has been halted, and you received zero say or compensation for that.”

Holmes says he believes the setback should require 1,500 feet of clearance from a neighboring property line, with the property owner having the right to waive the requirement.

“For those who want them, this can be waived,” said Holmes. “All areas I saw you can waive rights at any moment. The ordinance allows for anyone to sign a waiver and allow windmills without the setback distance, but zero protections or compensation is given to those who do not want to participate, but lose their basic rights on their property.”

Saying the supervisors would consider amending the ordinance in the future, Supervisor Chuck Morris says the intent of meeting is to find a way to balance property rights with economic opportunities.

“Our intent in having an ordinance is to protect people,” said Morris. “I’m proud of that fact. Is it perfect? No, that’s why we’re debating here. How do we make this ordinance work best for everybody? It’s a tough issue. You have land rights that are important, whether that’s with a windmill or without a windmill.”

Morris pointed to other counties in the state who currently have no wind turbine ordinances and says having something on the books promotes expansion of the industry while providing some sort of protection for property owners.

“If you have an opportunity for some expansion in your economy and in your tax base, we’re not doing our job if we don’t take a reasonable look at it,” said Morris. “We very much appreciate the feedback. I wish that there was an answer that everybody is going to happy. That’s not going to happen.”

Rex Engstrand is another resident in the county. He says if the county goes too far with setback regulations, wind energy companies will not invest the time or money to come to Page County.

“Any time you put ordinances in place, it’s a barrier to entry,” said Engstrand. “You are keeping companies from being able to come in – some for very good reasons – but you are limiting your tax base, your limiting your property owners the option to put windmills up. Whether you have ordinances in place or you make additions to them that make them more onerous, those companies are going to go elsewhere.”

Jane Stimson says one of the reasons she chooses to live in Page County is because of a lack of visual pollution. She says adding wind turbines would negatively affect her views.

“I appreciate being able to see the sunrise, the sunset and I’ve put trees in my yard so I could keep my view,” said Stimson. “I’ve got a pleasant ridge that I can pretend is a mountain ridge from my patio. To have windmills in that sight, would make me crazy.”

After gathering feedback at meetings this week, the supervisors are expected to conduct more research on the current county ordinances and make adjustments if they feel they are necessary in the near future.

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