PAXTON — The years-long process of revising Ford County’s ordinance regulating wind farms appears to be finally nearing an end.
The county board’s 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.
The committee’s most recent meeting was Monday, and another is set for 9 a.m. Thursday.
Committee member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley said that while some “sticking points” remain on the proposed revisions, it appears the committee is close to wrapping up its work.
“At the last meeting, we were just going through some minor word changes to clean the document up — things we caught, like misspellings, that type of thing,” Ihrke said. “We’re meeting again on Thursday because we didn’t get through all of (the corrections). I believe that on Thursday, we may be ready to send (the final draft) off to the state’s attorney for his go-through, so he can make sure everything is legally stated and all of that.”
After State’s Attorney Andrew Killian reviews the document, it will be presented to the full, 12-member board for its consideration. Ihrke said a vote could occur as early as November.
“We’re all getting anxious to get it finished,” Ihrke said. “It’s been a long time. We’ve put in hours and hours and hours on it.”
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.
The super-majority is required because the village of Roberts has filed a written protest to the zoning board of appeals’ recommendations last winter regarding setbacks and turbine height limitations. The village is asking the county to implement a 3,250-foot setback from property lines and a maximum turbine height of 500 feet — rather than an 1,800-foot setback and 600-foot height limit as recommended by the zoning board of appeals.
Despite the zoning board of appeals’ recommending a setback of just 1,800 feet, the county board’s five-member zoning committee has proposed a 2,250-foot setback from property lines in order to protect nonparticipating residents from the nuisances turbines can create, such as noise or shadow flicker, or the dangers associated with turbines catching fire or breaking
County board members’ opinions on the setback issue remain divided, though. Ihrke said some believe there should be two different setbacks implemented — a 2,250-foot setback applying to land occupied by a residence, and a 550-foot setback applying to nonresidential land.
Wind-farm developers have expressed concerns that a 2,250-foot setback would make construction of a wind farm extremely difficult, if not impossible. Developers have been asking instead for no greater than a 1,500-foot setback — and not from property lines but instead from “primary structures” such as homes. That is 500 feet larger than the setback currently required under Ford County’s wind ordinance, which was enacted in 2008.
Ihrke said she is among the board members who do not support a reduced setback applying to nonresidential properties. Ihrke noted that just because land does not contain a residence does not mean that the land is not used by people — for hunting, fishing or other recreational activities, for example. She said those people need to be protected, as well.
“There are a lot of people in Ford County who have recreational land,” she said. “People are out there with their four-wheelers, hunting, fishing, bird-watching — all of that stuff.”
Ihrke also noted that wind-farm developers can always ask nonparticipating landowners to sign “good-neighbor” agreements that often provide compensation to landowners for agreeing to sign a waiver of the setback requirement, allowing turbines to be built closer than the ordinance allows.