Ford County Board's zoning committee

Seated around a table in the small courtroom on the first floor of the Ford County Courthouse during a meeting of the county board’s zoning committee on Nov. 26 are, clockwise from left: Randy Ferguson of Gibson City, Gene May of rural Paxton, Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts, Debbie Smith of Paxton, Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley, Bob Lindgren of rural Loda and Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton.

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PAXTON — In an otherwise amicable meeting on Nov. 26, the chairman of the Ford County Board’s zoning committee lashed out at his fellow committee members, telling them he was at his “wits’ end” over their continued nitpicking in drafting revisions to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms.

“I am literally at the end of my sitting here — seriously, though, not figuratively,” Randy Ferguson said. “I’m one meeting away from being done with this, because we’re worried about every little dot, crossing every ‘T’ — every little thing that might possibly happen someday ever, maybe. It’s a waste of everybody’s time.”

The Gibson City resident’s comments came amid a discussion about a proposed limitation on “shadow flicker,” a nuisance that wind turbines can create. Some committee members were questioning whether the proposed regulation — to limit shadow flicker to “zero hours per year” on a non-participating landowner’s home — should also apply to kennels, barns or other businesses occupied by animals such as dogs or horses.

It was not the first time the topic of shadow flicker had been discussed, as the committee has met numerous times over the past two years to hash out the details of the revised wind-farm ordinance.

Ferguson was clearly frustrated by the lack of progress.

“You’ve got to get the nuts and the bolts and the real stuff figured out and at least get something (for the full county board to vote on),” Ferguson said, “and (after that happens), then you can critique that.

“But we’re not even getting through (that process). These are all pages (in the draft of the revised ordinance) that we’ve been over 25 times, and we’re changing them again because somebody in Timbuktu had a problem. I’m just at my wits’ end.”

That prompted committee member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton to point out: “But this is our job. That’s what we’ve been assigned to do.”

“Within reason it is,” Ferguson replied. “Not 2 1/2 years.”

One of the seven members of the public in the audience then told Ferguson that the ordinance revisions should be given careful consideration because they will affect many rural residents, even if Ferguson will not be affected personally.

“They might not affect you personally. Everything affects everybody differently,” Ferguson responded. “The horse thing — some people who have horses don’t care. There’s horses on the streets of New York City, and they don’t seem to have a problem with shadow flicker or lights or noise. Yet out here in the country, they do.”

Rather than the committee trying to prevent any possible problem associated with wind farms from happening by rewriting its wind-farm ordinance, Ferguson suggested that a better solution would have been to simply use another county’s ordinance as a template and “tweak it” to fit Ford County’s needs.

“I respectfully disagree,” committee member Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts responded.

McQuinn did, too. McQuinn noted that a quick search of the internet reveals a widespread trend of counties across the U.S. rewriting their wind-farm ordinances just as Ford County is doing.

“That’s right,” Cindy Ihrke said. “I mean, that’s why this (document) is sitting on the table — there’s another county health board that’s recommending 1.5-mile setbacks for turbines from residences.”

Cindy Ihrke said wind-farm ordinances are seeing “changes all the time.”

“And we’ll never get through (ours) because there will always be a change,” Ferguson replied.

Committee member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley acknowledged that further changes to the ordinance may indeed occur, even after the revised ordinance is put in place. However, she said that if the committee puts in the time to “get it right to start with as best we can” — as the committee is doing — any further changes to be made would likely be only “minor.”

“And you said that a year ago,” Ferguson responded.

“Well ...” Ann Ihrke replied.

After that exchange, the five-member committee then got back to business making changes to the 22-page draft of the revised ordinance. Finally, after two hours of discussion, the committee had reviewed the entire document and agreed on the suggested language.

Ferguson made plans to schedule another committee meeting during the full 12-member board’s next meeting on Dec. 9. Ferguson said he was tentatively looking at a date of Dec. 12 for the next committee meeting.

At the next committee meeting, the panel will give the ordinance draft one final review before sending it to State’s Attorney Andrew Killian for his own review. The document will then be sent back to the committee, which will take a vote on whether to recommend the full board approve it, possibly in January.

For the board to approve the revised ordinance, the Illinois Zoning Code requires that a super-majority — at least nine of the board’s 12 members — vote in favor.

Until the board approves it, a moratorium on issuing any new special-use permits for wind farms remains in effect in Ford County.

Most recent changes made

Among the proposed changes to the ordinance, as recommended at the Nov. 26 committee meeting, were:

➜ Requiring that wind turbines be a minimum distance of 2,250 feet from any property line of a property containing a “primary structure,” such as an occupied home. Property owners may waive the setback requirement, but under no circumstances can a turbine be closer than 1,000 feet to a primary structure.

➜ Requiring that wind turbines be at least 2.64 times the turbine’s tip height from any property line of a property containing no primary structure.

➜ Requiring a wind farm’s owner/operator to provide clean water to affected homes as “investigation and repair” are pursued in the event that any water well within one mile of the wind farm shows “noticeable fluctuations or changes in water quality” within the first year after the wind farm goes into operation. A pre-construction water well test within one mile of the project is also required to be completed by the wind farm’s owner/operator through the local health department.

➜ Requiring that wind turbines’ noise levels be in compliance with applicable Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations. Noise levels shall not exceed IPCB regulations at the property lines of any property containing a primary structure and shall not exceed 40 “LAeq”  — the A-weighted equivalent continuous sound level in decibels, measured over a stated period of time — at the exterior wall of a primary structure between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The requirements may be waived by a non-participating landowner.

➜ Restricting shadow flicker on a non-participating primary structure to “zero hours per year.” If shadow flicker is determined to be present, the turbine causing it will be shut down during periods where shadow flicker encroaches onto the non-participating primary structure. The requirement may be waived by a non-participating landowner.

➜ Requiring a wind farm’s owner/operator to pay a building-permit fee of $50,000 for each turbine for the first 2 megawatts “or a portion thereof that the generator is rated for,” plus an additional $5,000 fee for each additional megawatt the turbine is rated for “or a prorated portion thereof.”

➜ Requiring a wind farm’s owner/operator to complete, when applying for a special-use permit in advance of construction, a “property value impact study.” The study, which must be completed by a qualified real estate appraiser, will determine the wind farm’s effects on property and home values in the surrounding areas.