The Howard County Commissioners learned last week that a compromise means little to people who are set in their ways. A slate of changes to the county’s wind farm economic development agreement was met with total disdain from protestors who want the proposed Wildcat Wind Farm killed off completely.
The commissioners had endured a prolonged protest from the anti-wind crowd that began in April, and it appeared that the remonstration finally had eroded the officials’ resolve.
“We’ve heard testimony and comments and concerns for a number of months now,” said Commissioner Tyler Moore. “After the visits and letters and emails and phone calls, I think we’re in a position to bring some closure to the discussion and move forward.”
Moore said the proposed changes are designed to best serve the Howard County community as a whole.
“We do not take this decision lightly,” said Moore. “We know the concerns and know there are arguments on both sides of the issues. In conversations with leaseholders and residents in favor and opposed to the project as well as with officials from (wind developer) E.On, I think we have come to what we feel is a position we can move forward.”
The amendment changes setbacks for the windmills to 1,500 feet from a non-participating resident’s property. The existing setback of 1,250 feet will continue to be in place for participating residents. Sound level limits will be reduced to 50 decibels, down from 55 decibels, for non-participating residents.
E.On also will be required to install FAA-approved light shields atop the windmills to reduce visibility from the ground. Shadow flicker limits will be extended to include any time that the windmills are in operation. And the county will commit to establish appropriate wetlands setbacks as determined by the county surveyor and the county drainage board.
The wind turbine project will be required to make additional payments to Howard County equal to 10 percent of the granted 2012 abatement — approximately $750,000 — and the commissioners have committed to investigating ways to use that money to guarantee property values for affected properties.
“Today, there is no county in the U.S. that has structured such a deal,” said Commissioner Paul Wyman. “That will take some legal work, but we believe that if the project goes forward, we will be able to find a way to target these dollars toward the wind farm area.”
The proposal was rejected in its entirety by the protestors,
with not a single point conceded as an improvement or resolution. Various speakers argued that the windmill setbacks should be determined by the distance to the property line, not the living structure. They also insisted that the light shields would not be sufficient, and the decibel levels are nowhere near the 25-30 decibel limit they prefer.
The commissioners passed the amendment despite the protests and then went into recess so that a public hearing could be held for the Howard County Drainage Board. When the commissioners reconvened, however, they had a parting gift for the crowd — a moratorium on all future wind farm projects in Howard County. More information about the program is available on the web site at scfwindturbine.com.