BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Members of the Vermilion County Board’s wind advisory panel decided Wednesday to recommend no changes in the wind ordinance.
Panel members met for 90 minutes Wednesday, hashing out a number of recommendations they will pass along to Vermilion County Board members. None of the decisions, however, involve a change to the wind ordinance as it stands.
The panel was formed following a February committee meeting in which District 2 Board member Chuck Nesbitt suggested a moratorium to rework the ordinance. He proposed increased setbacks from both property lines and primary structures.
In discussions on the panel, however, members came to the agreement Wednesday the increased setbacks were not the answer.
“The setbacks issue is the white elephant in the room,” said panel chairman John Alexander, adding he didn’t see where the county can set wind turbines back far enough to appease complaints.
Panel members looked at increased setbacks as a result of residents’ complaints regarding noise and shadow flicker that were voiced at a public forum conducted earlier this month at Potomac Grade School.
Panel member Steve Fourez noted that topography and winds, among others, all factor into the noise issue for residents.
“There’s no one single fix-all answer,” he said.
In the end, the panel decided to pass along five recommendations to the county board to consider:
Issues of loss of property value, setbacks from substations and underground lines as well as environmental issues were discussed, but without an agreement on a recommendation.
Regarding property value, it was noted by the panel that residents who think they have lost property value as a result of the turbines can seek reduction of the property’s assessed valuation through their assessor or the county’s Board of Review.
Attempting to give relief to property owners is not in the authority of the county, according to the panel, and could “open the door” to attempts by property owners in other situations, according to Fourez.
The verdicts did not sit well with Kim Cambron, a rural Rankin resident who was joined by her husband in leading the movement to halt wind farms in Vermilion County and increase setbacks for a few years now.
Cambron was on the verge of tears more than once outside the meeting room as she deemed the results of the panel and the public forum a “tragedy.”
“My reaction is obviously the forum that was at the school, the testimony from the individuals who are living in the Invenergy project didn’t hold any weight at all,” she said.
“We’ve tried very hard to make (county board members) understand that this is what life is like,” she said. “And strengthening the ordinance is the way to go.”
Prior to the meeting, a formal letter by an attorney for the county’s insurance company was passed around. It indicated the county — without zoning — is limited in its authority over property owners and indicated a legal challenge could be filed against the county if it attempts to restrict the wind turbine industry too much.
“Where do we have the right to tell someone they can’t have wind turbines,” said panel member Linda Bolton.
The contention that a lack of zoning was holding back the county’s authority did not sit well with Cambron.
“I’m tired of hearing about no zoning, no zoning,” she said after the meeting. “It isn’t about zoning, it’s about people’s lives. And no weight was given to what was said at the forum at the school, obviously.”
Alexander acknowledged after the meeting that no answer was going to resolve the complaints of everyone involved.
“I know that we can’t satisfy everybody or every problem — that’s frustrating,” he said. “But unfortunately, you just don’t have the means to address every particular issue.”
With the Hoopeston Wind Farm still under permit and preliminary plans for expansion of the California Ridge Wind farm by Invenergy, Alexander said the issue and debate about wind farms is not going away anytime soon.
“Certainly, I think the discussion would serve as a basis for talks down the road,” he said of the panel’s meetings.