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PAXTON — The Ford County Board’s zoning committee continued reviewing a proposed ordinance for solar farms Thursday.

This was the second time committee members have worked on proposed language to address solar energy facility (SEF) development within the county, and there will be a third meeting called to finish the review.

The ordinance is currently focusing on potential SEFs occupying 20 acres on non-incorporated lands within the county, although the committee’s chairman, Randy Ferguson of Gibson City, said he wants the ordinance to eventually cover SEFs of any size. Some communities such as Gibson City and Paxton have their own solar ordinances or are in the process of implementing regulations.

Interest in SEFs within Illinois is expected to increase due to the decline in the price of solar installation and the fact that energy credits are part of the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act. There is no known interest for SEF development within the county at this time.

Wind farm regulations

Thursday night’s meeting of more than two hours began with Ford County resident Joanne Fetzner presenting a letter urging that a requirement for water testing for wells within two miles of a wind turbine be included in the county’s wind farm ordinance, which is being rewritten to include new rules.

Fetzner said she had tracked down officials who could speak to her about reports of problems in neighboring McLean County for a period of time following wind farm development. The letter attributed the suggested requirement for well testing to Lynn Dunaway, an environmental protection specialist and geologist with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Bureau of Water.

During a review of the proposed revisions to the wind farm ordinance Thursday, sections of the ordinance were read aloud and members could then ask questions about the details or the reason for inclusion of a section in the ordinance. Answers were provided by committee members Anne Ihrke of rural Buckley or Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts, who had compiled the proposed language for the new ordinance from similar ordinances of other counties.

Areas addressed within the proposed ordinance included: classification as a special-use permit, chemical runoff into the soil, inspection for integrity following major wind events, the application process and timeline, setbacks, viewshed screening by vegetation from residences within a certain distance of a turbine, protection of others’ property values, decommissioning, and official reasons the county’s zoning board of appeals could disapprove the issuance of a special-use permit.

Meanwhile, the committee discussed the need to move forward with having the full 12-member county board vote on the revised wind farm ordinance, which has been under review for almost two years. A moratorium on the issuance of new special-use permits for wind farms remains in place until the changes are approved by the full board.

In a sometimes-heated discussion, Ferguson renewed his objection to the proposed increased setback distance for turbines of 2,250 feet from property lines. Ferguson read a letter from board member Chase McCall of Gibson City in support of reducing the setback and expressing alternate language. The two county board members said they feel the currently proposed setback distance would unduly discourage wind-energy development, which they feel is a welcome industrial development opportunity for the county.

However, the Ihrkes and fellow committee member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton said they felt the addition of a clause allowing a nonparticipating landowner to waive the setback distance fully addressed that concern.

The proposed wind farm ordinance is currently still being compiled by the county clerk’s office. Committee members said they would like to take a final vote as a committee before a review of the ordinance is completed by State’s Attorney Andrew Killian and a final vote is taken by the full county board.

New ZBA member needed

The committee also discussed the need to appoint a resident to fill a vacancy on the five-member zoning board of appeals.

Emily Lattz of rural Gibson City has expressed interest in filling the vacancy.

The four members currently on the zoning board of appeals are from Cullom, Roberts, Piper City and Gibson City.

McQuinn said no one from his county board district in the Paxton area had expressed interest in serving on the zoning board of appeals. Members of the zoning board of appeals are appointed by the county board’s chairman for a five-year term and can be reappointed any number of times.

In addition to all members of the committee, in attendance at Thursday’s meeting were Ford County Board Chairman Robert Lindgren of rural Loda, Zoning Officer Matt Rock and Ford County Clerk & Recorder Amy Frederick. Four other interested individuals were also present, including Kaylyn Davis of Pattern Development, a renewable energy company.