PLYMOUTH - Marshall County residents made their voice heard regarding a proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance regarding wind energy systems.
“I commend you all for being here, this is what being an American is all about, having your point of view heard on a particular issue,” said Bob Yoder a member of the Plymouth Plan Commission to the assembled who attended the regular monthly Commission meeting.
Around 200 people from around the county crowded into the Commissioners Meeting Room of the County Building as the Commission considered the proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance regarding “wind farms”. The proposal was prepared and presented to the Commission by Steven Snyder of Snyder-Morgan Attorneys on behalf of the many present.
Marshall County Plan Director Ralph Booker also placed into the record over 1,600 petitions and 30 e-mails his office has received in favor of the zoning change.
Essentially the changes in the ordinance would involve setbacks for each of the turbine towers in any proposed wind energy system. The current ordinance requires a 1,000 foot setback from any property line for each tower. The proposed change would increase that distance to half a mile. It would also make the set back for a tower 3 miles from any lake - natural or man made - or river in the county.
The proposed changes would also provide greater safeguards economically and environmentally for residents and Marshall County government in the event that the structures become outmoded, or a company abandons or ceases production at a wind farm.
Snyder told the commission that their priorities when considering the wind energy systems, whether they should be allowed in the county and just where they should be allowed should be protection of citizens safety, protection of their property values and protection of the environment of the county.
Snyder outlined other ordinances with similar setbacks and presented evidence of the harm that wind energy systems have allegedly done to nearby residents health and to the environment - especially to migratory birds. He also mentioned an extensive property value study done in Illinois documenting drastically decreased property values in areas where the farms have located.
With the volumes of information presented, Yoder asked a question that went to the heart of whether the Commission would vote to recommend the changes to the Marshall County Commissioners who would have final approval.
“How elaborate do we have to be in saying that wind energy systems aren’t allowed in Marshall County?” He asked the Commission lawyer Ken Lukenbill. “If we do this with our population density, that’s really what we’re saying.”
The bottom line is that if the proposed setbacks on turbine towers were enacted, it would essentially make it close to impossible to locate a system in Marshall County. Commission member Larry Fisher made the motion to table the issue to give the members of the Plan Commission time to digest the information presented and allow them to have a more substantive discussion on exactly the right changes for Marshall County.
The current ordinance was enacted at a time when several wind energy companies were eyeing the county as a possible site location. The Plan Commission members at the time felt a need to hurry and enact some sort of restrictions and guidelines to keep a company from “free reign” with nothing on the books. Fisher suggested the Commission now had time to look at the systems more extensively to be sure about any action.
Commission Vice President Stan Klotz was the lone member to vote against tabling the matter that will be discussed again at the Commission’s meeting on Feb. 28.