Ford County Board's zoning committee

Members of the Ford County Board sit at a table in the first-floor courtroom at the Ford County Courthouse on Thursday as they discuss proposed revisions to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms. They are, clockwise from far-right: Bob Lindgren of rural Loda, Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton, Randy Ferguson of Gibson City, Gene May of rural Paxton, Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts and Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley.

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PAXTON — There will be three more meetings — at least — before the Ford County Board is ready to vote on changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms.

The board’s five-member zoning committee met twice last week to review some of the proposed revisions, but the panel was still not finished with its work. Another meeting of the committee is expected to be scheduled when the full 12-member board meets Monday night.

At the next committee meeting, members will try to come to agreement on any remaining changes. If there is agreement, the committee will then schedule another meeting and invite the other seven members of the board to it, so the entire board can discuss the revised ordinance. If a majority of the board appears to be in agreement, the document will then be sent to State’s Attorney Andrew Killian for his review.

After Killian completes his review, the committee will then meet a third time to vote on whether to recommend the full board approve the ordinance. For the county 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.

While disagreement persists among board members on various changes proposed — including stricter setbacks and ways to address shadow flicker — zoning committee member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley said at the end of Thursday’s meeting, “I think we’re getting closer” to a consensus.

The zoning committee has met numerous times to work on the ordinance since October 2017, when the board implemented a moratorium on issuing any new special-use permits for wind farms until the rules are revised to better protect the county and its residents.

At Thursday’s meeting, committee member Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts suggested adding two paragraphs to the ordinance — one related to contamination of wells and one related to property-value studies — but neither was accepted by the panel.

Cindy Ihrke first suggested that language be added to require a wind-farm operator to provide clean water to residents within a wind farm’s footprint in the event that three or more wells within “close proximity” of each other “test positive for contamination within the same 30-day period.”

Cindy Ihrke noted that in Canada, “multiple homes” were left with unusable water wells for more than a year after a wind farm’s equipment caused vibrations in the ground, causing shale to contaminate the aquifer that provides the wells with water.

Ann Ihrke noted that Cindy Ihrke’s proposal would not be “putting any expense on the wind company if there’s not a problem.”

Committee member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton disagreed with the practicality of enforcing the proposed requirement. McQuinn noted that the county would be unable to require a company to pay for the emergency water without the cause being confirmed.

“My only problem with it is the fact that, unfortunately, there’s going to be a time period go by in which you have to prove it’s the wind farm’s fault before you’re going to be able to make them pay for any temporary water service,” McQuinn said.

Meanwhile, Zoning Committee Chairman Randy Ferguson of Gibson City appeared to disagree with the proposed language entirely.

“You can’t build a piece of paper that’s going to protect you from everything that could possibly happen or maybe has happened once in the history of the world,” Ferguson said. “What if the Ice Age comes? Just because it’s happened once in the world doesn’t mean you go nuts with it.”

Cindy Ihrke also suggested adding language to the ordinance’s section related to property-value studies that a wind-farm owner must complete as part of its special-use permit application. She said the additional language would serve as a “guideline” for the wind-farm owner to use “when they turn in their reports” to the zoning board of appeals when the ZBA considers approval of a permit.

“This way, our ZBA knows what to base their judgment on, and the wind company knows what exactly to turn in that we’re looking for,” Cindy Ihrke said.

Among other things, Cindy Ihrke suggested that the county require a wind-farm company to provide in its special-use permit application aerial images showing the land uses within and near a wind farm’s footprint.

“That way, if a project is right up against a town, we would be able to see that,” she said.

The committee ended up not adding the language, though.

“I think we’ve added and added and added and added and added again, and we’re all confused,” Ferguson said.