PAXTON — The Ford County Board’s zoning committee finalized a package of proposed changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind farms Tuesday morning, including a proposal to more than double the distance that wind turbines must be from homes.
For much of the spring and summer, committee members seemed comfortable with a proposal to increase the existing 1,000-foot setback between wind turbines and "primary structures," such as homes, to 1,500 feet.
However, when the committee voted Tuesday on whether to send the package of proposed changes — which included the 1,500-foot setback — to the county’s plan commission and zoning board of appeals, the measure failed by a 3-2 vote.
The committee then re-voted on the proposed ordinance to include a setback of 2,250 feet from primary structures, or four times a turbine’s tip height, whichever is greater. The amended proposal was approved unanimously.
Committee members Gene May of Paxton, Randy Ferguson of Gibson City and Matt Rock, who also serves as the county’s zoning enforcement officer, voted against the 1,500-foot setback. Voting in favor of it were Randy Berger of Gibson City and the committee’s chairman, Dave Hastings of Paxton.
As a compromise, Ferguson said he wanted to see the setback be somewhere between 1,500 feet and the 3,250 feet that some residents had requested.
"I know the shadow flicker (turbines can cause) would drive me insane," Ferguson said.
County board member Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton, who is not a member of the committee, noted that he and other board members did not agree with the proposed 1,500-foot setback. McQuinn said he would like to see the committee approve a proposed setback "we could all agree with."
Joanne Fetzger, an advocate for greater setbacks, said the proposed 2,250-foot setback is not a victory, but "we’re moving in the right direction." Fetzger said she would like to see an additional 1,000 feet from a primary structure and wants setbacks from property lines to be greater than proposed, as well.
Erin Baker, a senior development manager for Apex Clean Energy, appeared taken aback by the proposed 2,250-foot setback. Baker said her company has already spent $2.5 million developing the Ford Ridge Wind Farm, a proposed wind-energy project in western Ford County in the Gibson City and Sibley area.
The company is doing reconstruction surveying and had hoped to break ground in spring 2019, Baker said. But whether the wind farm moves forward under the proposed changes remains to be seen.
"We’ll need to take a look," Baker said. "We’ll have to do our due diligence."
Hastings opened the meeting by allowing public comment from anyone who wanted to speak. Five people urged the committee to mandate greater setbacks and to consider the concerns of small parcel property owners.
Ted Hartke, a surveyor who said he evacuated his Vermilion County home due to noise issues caused by a turbine nearby, presented the committee with a proposed resolution that would enact 16 wind-energy standards as well as his research underlying their inclusion. The committee did not act on Hartke’s suggestion, however.
Meanwhile, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley School District Superintendent Jeremy Darnell thanked the committee for its hard work. The school district expects to receive tax revenue from the proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm.
The proposed ordinance changes will next be considered separately by the plan commission and the zoning board, the latter of which will hold a public hearing. Dates for those two panels to meet have not been set yet. Meeting notices must be published for each panel 15 days ahead of either meeting.
After being voted on by the zoning board and plan commission, the full county board will take its own vote on whether to approve the revised ordinance.