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Residents bring mixed views on wind turbines to second of three county P&Z hearings

The Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission held its second of three public hearings for proposed wind farm regulations Tuesday in Harrisburg High School’s gym. The meeting drew a crowd of around 50 people and gave the floor to 13 citizen speakers.

The majority of speakers were against the proposed zoning regulations about how and where turbines can be built, citing areas that needed revising. There was mixed support for the general idea of wind turbines in the county.

When it was her turn to speak, Susan Goodman began by asking the audience who would move away from Harrisburg if turbines were built in the county. Around half of those in attendance raised their hands.She remarked that number would significantly affect the tax base.

Those who spoke were primarily concerned about noise and the size of the buffer zones. Tom Weishlocher, the first to speak, opened the hearing with comments on both concerns.

He compared the size of the turbines to the St. Louis Arch, despite a significant difference in the actual height of each. He stated that he wanted a buffer zone larger than the proposed quarter of a mile to distance the turbines from neighboring properties.

Weishlocher, like many, was also concerned by the proposed sound cap of 65 decibels for the wind turbines and believed the cap should be around 40 decibels depending on the time of day, in agreement with World Health Organization’s guidelines. He cited that both NextEra, a prominent wind company, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency also agree with a maximum of 40 decibels.

“If a wind company and the EPA can both agree to 40 decibels maximum,” Weishlocher said, “Boone County should also adopt 40 decibels maximum.”

For Robert Dochler, the noise problem is more about the consistency than volume. He said he believes it wouldn’t matter how loud it was; being unable to escape the sound would be the annoyance. Dochler proposed a shut-off schedule or set quiet hours when the turbines would be required to power down.

Not everyone who came to speak was against the regulations.

Carolyn Chrisman, a resident of Kirksville, home to the state’s biggest wind farm, shared the positives of the newly installed wind turbines near her home. She explained the benefits Kirksville was seeing, such as construction workers that stimulating the economy, the 25 jobs the turbines have created and the eight teachers whose jobs were saved by the increased tax revenue the school district saw. She mentioned that the roads were destroyed during construction, but she remains hopeful the problem will be resolved soon.

Several speakers said comparing nearby areas with turbines, like Kirksville, to Columbia was like comparing apples to oranges.

Steven Nagel, one of the speakers, did the math for those in attendance. Boone County, with 442,000 acres and 180,000 people, has 2.45 acres per person, while counties like Howard are less densely populated at 30 acres per person.

Emily Furlong felt the turbines would be benefiting a minority of the community rather than the greater whole. She said she understands the benefits this could bring to farmers but doesn’t think Harrisburg is a primarily farm community.

Several in attendance agreed turbines might be a good fit for smaller neighboring counties, but they didn’t believe they would serve goals of the more urban Boone county.

Greg Toul used his five minutes to pose a series of questions to the commission about areas he was concerned about. Toul wanted transparency and accountability for environmental assessment and fire hazards.

“I came here because I’m concerned,” Toul said. “They’ve done a great job with the regulations, but right now, they’ve got a huge opportunity to show the citizens of Boone County, and especially this community, that they care and just put an end to this and say, ‘No, we will not have them here.’”

The third and final public hearing on this matter will be April 29 in the Central Office Board Room of Southern Boone County Schools in Ashland. On April 30, the Boone County Resource Management website will close the online public comment section.

The Boone County Resource Management website also provides an FAQ on wind farms, the draft of the regulations, minutes from previous hearings and the full presentation detailing the regulations.