BEATRICE – Northern Gage County residents won a long battle today, as the Gage County Board approved an amendment increasing the setback between wind turbines and non-participating rural homes, to one mile.
Applause broke out in the hallway outside the supervisor’s room, as an overflow of interested citizens reacted to the board’s vote.
The county’s current regulation has been three-eighths of a mile. The county board approved a plan to ask the planning and zoning commission to review issues of wind turbine noise limits and making setbacks from the property line, rather than residence…along with proximity to things such as schools or churches.
Supervisor Matt Bauman said it may be time to look at setbacks regionally…so that wind farms in less dense residential areas could be considered. He felt the turbines didn’t belong in northern Gage County.
"I just think it's the wrong place for it, and I don't say that lightly, because I've always voted for self-determination of personal property, specifically land, since I've been on the board. It's a bigger issue than just northern Gage County.
Alternative energy is coming. It's here. We're probably a little bit behind where we need to be. For that area of the county, I think the text amendment works. For other areas of the county, it doesn't. We might get getting it wrong by painting the county with one broad brush...so there has to be compromise somewhere down the road".
Supervisor John Hill also voted with the 6-1 majority today to adopt the one-mile setback.
"There's certainly a difference between the northern part of the county and the southern part of the county...there's no doubt about it. I'm not convinced that a one-mile setback would stop a project like Steele Flats from expanding. They would have to work better with their neighbors and be more open about it."
Hill said he would like the county to adopt Lancaster County’s lower wind turbine noise limits….40 decibels during the daytime, and 37 at night.
County Board member Terry Jurgens of Odell cast the lone dissenting vote on the increased setback, quoting concerns from a former Gage County Board member Dave Anderson about the financial benefits to southwest Gage County with the Steele Flats wind farm.
"I wish there was a compromise somewhere in here, but we're not voting on a compromise. In this area, voting on just my district (SW Gage), I'm not saying a majority....but the people who have spoken to me think the mile setback is too far....and think if there was future expansion with Steele Flats, it would kill that expansion".
Gage County board member Dennis Byars says he was concerned about things that might affect the health of citizens from the wind turbines.
"There are so many things that affect the people that we represent and it can be very scary, health-wise. I think that affected me, and I think we need to study it".
Supervisors Chairman Erich Tiemann says the planning commission can consider and send back to the board recommendations on any, or all suggestions by the supervisors.
Gage County Attorney Roger Harris said the time commitment has taken its toll on planning commission members, who serve in a volunteer capacity.
Board member Jurgens said it “may be time to let the dust settle a little bit”.