After a special session public hearing last week, it appears Clinton County is moving closer to installing a moratorium on all permits pertaining to wind energy systems.
The Clinton County Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Friday, January 22, to approve a moratorium on all wind energy applications until the board can review and amend its existing wind energy regulations. Before going into effect, the Clinton County Commissioners will need to either approve or deny the planning and zoning commission’s decision on the moratorium amendment.
As of Tuesday, January 26, the Clinton County Commissioners had yet to receive the amendment from planning and zoning.
The planning and zoning board first proposed the moratorium in December, but had to wait until this month to properly notify the public and host Friday’s public hearing. The moratorium would last until December or could be lifted earlier if the zoning board finishes its review of its zoning regulations.
The board won’t wait long to begin reviewing the wind energy regulations; the group is scheduled to consider proposed amendments during the regular monthly meeting on Thursday, February 4.
NextEra Energy – the Florida-based company previously permitted to build wind turbines in Clinton County and looking to regain that status – submitted a special use permit request to the planning and zoning department in late December, before the zoning board could move on the proposed moratorium. That request was dismissed by the department, however. Clinton County Planning and Zoning Administrator Beth Farwell said the request was discarded for being incomplete and not providing the necessary documents.
In that permit application, NextEra proposed to build approximately 33 wind turbines in the north-central section of Clinton County. NextEra is also looking to build turbines in DeKalb County north of Clinton County.
More than 100 people turned out for the public hearing Friday. Despite being listed last on the agenda for the public hearing, NextEra representative Neil Jones spoke first to the planning and zoning board at the request of Chairman Michael Adair. Jones outlined NextEra’s experience in Clinton County beginning in 2009 and the county’s first wind energy regulations, established in the county zoning order in that same year. He also reiterated that NextEra doesn’t take this or any of its other projects lightly.
Jones said adding nine or 10 months of consideration for the county’s wind energy regulation won’t address the issue any more than it has been in the past six years.
The residents who attended and spoke at the public hearing Friday weren’t of the same mind. Chairman Michael Adair did an informal survey of the crowd to see where they stood on the moratorium; 99 were in favor of the moratorium and only a handful were against.
“I think the board needs time to go over all of the ordinances,” said 17-year Clinton County resident Bert Masters, adding that they can’t afford to make mistakes on the issue. He went on to say the planning and zoning board has a big job ahead of them, but that he is confident they can handle it.
Resident Lori Colvin said she has been paying attention to the stories of people who have been suffering because of nearby turbines, and said she fears for her neighbors locally who could soon be dealing with the same issues.
“There could not possibly be opposition to ensuring those in our county are protected,” Colvin said.
Matt Shatto with the Shatto Milk Company – a staunch opponent to the the wind energy project and advocate of stricter protections for residents near the proposed turbines – spoke in favor of the moratorium. As did Bruce Burdick, chairman of Concerned Citizens for the Future of Clinton and DeKalb Counties, an opposition group to the proposed project.
“I think it’s very important (the board) have this time,” Burdick said after the meeting, “because it’s critical they make their decisions on good science and good information that’s provided to them. Not only on science, but also in terms of finances, also in terms of some of the other effects, wildlife and all of the other things.”
Earlier this month, Concerned Citizens for the Future of Clinton and DeKalb Counties submitted 25 proposed amendments to the county’s wind regulations to the planning and zoning board. The proposed amendments would create greater protections for nearby landowners while expanding test requirements and restrictions on where turbines can be built.
The moratorium approved Friday comes in the form of an amendment to the county’s zoning order. At the end of the meeting, despite a vague attempt by the board to clarify, it was unclear if the planning and zoning board’s vote meant the moratorium amendment would be enacted immediately or if there was more to the process.
After the vote, Alan Anderson – an attorney with Polsinelli representing NextEra – said that they would be objecting to the decision on the grounds it isn’t within the zoning board’s power to instate the amendment, but rather the final say on the amendment rested with the county commissioners.
After some clarification from Clinton County Planning and Zoning Administrator Beth Farwell, it appears the objection might not be needed.
Farwell confirmed to The Leader this week that the moratorium amendment approved by the zoning board on Friday won’t be enacted until the Clinton County Commissioners either approve or deny it. The vote by the planning and zoning board essentially represents a recommendation to the county commissioners. Should the commissioners deny it, the amendment would revert to the planning and zoning board.
As of Tuesday, the Clinton County Commissioners had yet to receive the amendment from planning and zoning. In the past, most planning and zoning issues addressed by the Clinton County Commissioners have fallen under the “routine business” section of their agenda, and as such, are not specifically listed on the agenda. The commissioners had yet to discuss if they would list the amendment on the agenda or how they would handle the issue if it comes across their desk.