An open letter to the Winnebago County Board
By Aaron Funfsinn
Laona Township resident
I have several concerns to address to the County Board. First, I have never heard of an ordinance being adopted by a county, which was written by a company that the ordinance would regulate. The ordinance should have been written by county staff, with outside consultation.
Second, I am concerned that this ordinance will not address the right of adjacent property owners to erect their own wind turbines, or to lease their property to other companies to erect turbines. The ordinance recognizes a 1200 foot setback from adjacent dwellings, but I am not aware of any setback between turbines and adjacent, future turbine sites. This became a controversial issue when adjacent property owners were restricted from erecting their own turbines if they were too close to existing turbines, regardless of the setback from adjacent property lines.
This matter will likely be resolved in court, which is occurring in some states, but a good ordinance could avoid that if it recognized the “wind rights” of adjacent property owners by requiring setbacks between turbines and future turbine sites, or by paying the adjacent property owner for their “wind rights.” However, Navitas apparently has no interest in paying adjacent property owners for access to their space, which this county should require.
Third, I am concerned that without a special-use permit, any company could put a wind farm anywhere in the unincorporated area of the county without considering differences between townships or neighborhoods. This is problematic where differences in geographic terrain or population density require a greater setback from dwellings because of differences in acoustics and the size of the population impacted. An ordinance drafted for a more populated area of the county may be satisfied with a shorter setback since sound may not travel as far, but the ordinance would not be sufficient for more rural townships where sound may travel farther. Likewise, the grade of the terrain can vary greatly, which can alter the effectiveness of a setback to maintain a standard level of noise for adjacent dwellings.
This ordinance should limit the level of noise experienced at each dwelling rather than simply relying on a setback distance, so that a turbine that is 1200 feet away from a dwelling, but which exceeds the acceptable noise limit, must be sited farther away than 1200 feet.
I am also concerned that some areas of the county may have particularized interests, such as an airport, airstrip, crop dusting, or unincorporated subdivision or development, which would not be addressed unless there is a special-use requirement.
It is argued that the Winnebago County Board cannot require special-use when permitting wind turbines since it would be too tedious, but that is not a realistic characterization, since the county would receive applications to construct large wind farms, such as Navitas’. Because Winnebago County is not large enough to host more than a handful of large wind farms, there really would not be that much time consumed but for those four or five special-use permits.
Stephenson County did not require special-use permit; but following litigation, they adopted special-use permit. Why would this County Board go down the same path, which resulted in litigation, but ended up with special-use permits?
Fourth, I am unsatisfied with the treatment of adjacent property values. Real Estate values have become volatile, which is all the more reason that the ordinance should safeguard the value of this important, taxed property. Property and home ownership is one of the most important investments during a lifetime.
If, as Navitas states, a wind farm will increase the value of adjacent property, then Navitas or any other company should be required to guarantee the value of that property since they attest that their activities have no impact on the value of nearby property. This should not only include adjacent property, but should include all property within a close proximity of a wind farm since those properties are affected as well.
Finally, it is unfair that areas within 1.5 miles of municipalities will be exempt from this ordinance, which is permitted by state legislation, but areas outside of 1.5 miles will not be exempted. I agree with the right of the municipality to halt a wind farm so close to their jurisdiction because they have an interest in protecting the value of future growth and protecting the quality of their residential dwellings, but this concept of protection should logically be extended to everyone in the unincorporated area of the county. That exemption is, in fact, the best example of NIMBY during this whole process, but board members who represent municipalities agree with it when, at the very same time, they oppose similar restrictions in unincorporated areas of the county.
Well, ask yourself what you would think if hundreds of noisy, 400 foot tall towers were erected in your neighborhood or around your municipality? We have an answer to that question, which is why wind farms would be restricted within 1.5 miles of municipalities. But why will you not require similar restrictions in unincorporated areas of Winnebago County, even if wind farms were permitted as a special-use? Human beings live in unincorporated, as well as incorporated, areas of the county, but why are human beings who live in incorporated areas given an altogether different backyard than human beings who live in unincorporated areas?
This ordinance is as much about NIMBY as any opposition to a wind farm since the areas immediately adjacent to municipalities, and the residents within, will avoid the sight and sound of a wind farm.
For a few hundred two-month jobs, and maybe a dozen permanent, yet out-of-county, jobs, it is not worth it to abandon special-use permits. By abandoning special-use permits now, then the future of special-use permits will likely be forever closed, even when it might be the most needed, which is just wrong.
Is it fair to redistribute the quality of life and value of property of average residents to one large foreign-owned company?
Whether or not you support the adoption of this ordinance, please do not ignore the issues that this letter raised. This should not be an end to, but the beginning of a regulatory process.
The following Web sites contain information about “wind rights,” which are like mineral rights, and homeowner or property protection plans, which were drafted as an ordinance in Stephenson County:
http://www.facebook.com/l/592ea;www.mankatofreepress.com/local/local_story_294214917.html, http://www.facebook.com/l/592ea;minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/10/13/wind-land-fight/, http://www.facebook.com/l/592ea;www.wind-watch.org/news/2007/02/05/stephenson-co-to-examine-homeowner-protection-plan/.
From the October 28-November 3, 2009 issue
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