SYCAMORE – After months of public discussion and deliberation, the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee has a full first draft of a county wind energy development ordinance.
The committee passed the ordinance draft during its meeting Wednesday night at the DeKalb County Legislative Center that now will go before a public hearing officer. County officials made it clear, however, that this is by no means the end of the draft process.
County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski said the ordinance gives the committee a baseline to work off in the process ahead. He said none of the components are set in stone.
“They can all be adjusted; they can be changed,” Pietrowski said as he addressed attendees toward the end of the meeting Wednesday, “and that can be to your liking or not to your liking.”
The committee passed a few more components before it finished the first full draft of the ordinance, including setting a minimum tower setback of 1.1 times the turbine height to the blade tip. The vote on that was 3-2, with committee members Tracy Jones and Craig Roman voting against the motion, and Pietrowski, Kevin Bunge and Dan Cribben voting in favor of it. Members Suzanne Willis and Steve Faivre were absent.
Other passed components include a 1.5-mile setback from eagle nests in the county, and the requirement of adding motion technology to the towers so fast-traveling blades wouldn’t harm flying birds or bats, along with the developer having to obtain approval from municipalities for proposed projects 1.5 to 3 miles from city limits.
The moratorium that the county set on wind energy projects in 2017 also was amended during the Wednesday committee meeting. It originally was supposed to expire in September if the county didn’t pass a wind ordinance, but it has been extended to the end of the year or until the county passes a final ordinance.
Derek Hiland, community development director for DeKalb County, said the next steps after finishing up the first draft of the ordinance will involve the draft going before a public hearing officer, who then would send the draft back to the committee with any recommendations. The committee then would send it to the County Board, he said.
A public hearing date hasn’t been scheduled yet, Hiland said, but the goal is to meet with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s state’s attorney before the next public hearing to iron out enforcement details if a developer is found to be violating the ordinance. The idea is to solidify a component mandating that wind developers would have to reimburse the county for equipment and staff training used to investigate and verify violations, along with developers being subjected to fines for each violation, he said.
“We need to get this ordinance finalized,” Hiland said.
EDF Renewables representative Shanelle Montana said she has never seen a county attempt to have the sheriff’s office enforce compliance. Ordinarily, Montana said, the protocol is that the county hires third-party contractors to help enforce compliance, and that violations are contingent on the project’s permit. If the project doesn’t have a permit, the project would have to shut down, she said.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen an ordinance like this,” Montana said.
Jones said the thought was to make sure the public easily could reach someone to report a violation, as opposed to having to chase down an 800 phone number.
“That was a concern of the committee,” Jones said. “It’s still my concern.”
Montana had said most of the components as outlined in the draft would restrict all wind development in the county. She said wind project developers wouldn’t be here if claims about the towers affecting property values and causing health problems for nonparticipating residents were true, nor would they be here if people were not asking to sign leases and participate in the projects.
“We don’t want to have to go back to them and tell them that DeKalb County doesn’t want them,” Montana said. “But that’s what is going to happen if a balance isn’t approached.”
Brad Belanger, head of Concerned Citizens for DeKalb County, a group that opposes wind turbines, said he’s glad to see the ordinance draft process moving along. He said he has no major issues with anything that was brought up by committee members Wednesday and echoed that everything within the draft still is subject to change going into future public hearings.
“I feel confident and fair with what they have come up with so far,” Belanger said.