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Discussion over county-wide zoning, Worthwhile Wind continues in Worth County

The Worth County Planning and Zoning Committee met Wednesday night to discuss how to combat concerns regarding zoning and wind energy projects.

Discussion on this ordinance stems from the Worthwhile Wind project being put together by Invenergy in Worth County. Invenergy is in the process of obtaining easements in both Worth and Winnebago counties for a 30,000-acre wind farm.

Landowners who oppose the project are looking for protection from the county through zoning as they believe just having Invenergy’s word on setbacks isn’t enough. Those who support the project believe that zoning initiatives only restrict their property rights, and that there have been wind farms in the county for decades with no complaints until recent years. Proponents of the project also point to the $4.8 million in tax revenue the project would bring in for infrastructure improvements to the county.

Members of the Worth County Board of Supervisors met with the planning and zoning committee to discuss their thoughts over the debate between initiating county-wide zoning for Worth County or just putting a standalone ordinance in place over wind power.

AJ Stone was the first member of the board of supervisors to speak, and he believes that wind turbines and the citizens of Worth County don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“My thoughts since day one is there has to be some common ground so that we can work together with wind turbines,” Stone said. “We can co-exist in this county.”

On the subject of county-wide zoning versus a standalone ordinance, Stone said that he was open to whichever would provide more protection for Worth County citizens.

“One or the other (zoning or ordinance) has to be done,” Stone said. “As long as we’re able to protect the citizens who don’t want (wind turbines).”

Less optimistic about county-wide zoning was the second board of supervisors member to speak, Mark Smeby.

Smeby raised the concerns of citizens he had spoken to that county-wide zoning would restrict their property rights.

Smeby also mentioned that citizens that have signed contracts for wind turbines or solar power are getting “nervous” about the time being taken to make these decisions.

Enos Loberg was the final board of supervisors member to speak, raising similar concerns to Stone’s.

Loberg spoke about his main two concerns: distances of the wind turbines from homes and the shadow and flicker caused by the wind turbines. According to Loberg, a standalone ordinance would be what he believes to be the best solution to these issues instead of county-wide zoning.

“I’d rather see a wind ordinance put in as a standalone,” Loberg. “Later on we can discuss if we want to go from three townships to all twelve townships on zoning.”

After hearing from all three board members, the planning and zoning committee began looking at a draft of the standalone wind ordinance to discuss the specific language used on the ordinance they will eventually share with the board of supervisors.

During this review, Zoning Administrator Jeff Gorball said that his goal with the ordinance language is to protect non-participants.

“Non-participants should get zero noise and zero flicker,” Gorball said. “That’s my aim with this ordinance.”

Some of the things brought up in this discussion included whether to include height restrictions, how far the setback should be and where on property lines decibels should be recorded from.

No official decisions were made yet regarding the ordinance language, but the committee plans on continuing to review the language at their meeting next week on Wednesday, May 26.