Wednesday, July 18, 2007

County agrees to wind turbine moratorium?sort of

Planning commission divided on specifics of proposed moratorium

Express Staff Writer

In a complicated three-to-three vote last Thursday, the entire Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission agreed that, yes, the county should initiate a 180-day moratorium on applications to install wind turbines. It was split, however, over how extensive the moratorium should be.

Under the proposed interim moratorium, the county would prohibit the filing of any applications for wind turbine construction.

Idaho statute allows counties to adopt interim moratoriums if they state "in writing that an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare requires the adoption of an interim moratorium."

On Tuesday Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves said the P&Z did not specify what imminent peril exists. He said the commission left that determination to the Blaine County Commission, which will have the ultimate say about whether a moratorium on wind turbines should be put in place.

The P&Z's determination is in the form of a recommendation to the County Commission.

"It's not a precise 'you shall do the following,'" Graves said of the P&Z's recommendation. "It's not a final decision."

Graves said the P&Z was split over how exactly the ordinance declaring the moratorium should be written. Essentially it came down to how restrictive the moratorium should be, he said.

"There was disagreement with the confines of the moratorium," Graves said.

He said that since Blaine County code doesn't say much on the topic of wind turbines, a moratorium would give the county time to develop a more specific ordinance. He said such an ordinance would likely address such issues as proper placement of wind turbines, height restrictions and other aesthetic and safety concerns.

Graves said that while the county supports the concept of wind generation, the recent filing of two applications for wind turbine construction highlighted the need for more specific guidelines.

"We don't want to view these things negatively," he said. "We want to make sure they're safe and preserve aesthetic values."

Graves said interim moratoriums differ from emergency moratoriums in that the former requires public notice before being considered. He said emergency moratoriums can be immediately put in place by a county commission, but there must be an immediate threat to the public safety.

"You just enact it that day," he said.

He said the county's consideration of a wind turbine moratorium is not such a case.

Because the County Commission hasn't yet addressed the issue of the moratorium, residents can still apply to install wind turbines on their properties.

Especially in regard to agriculture lands in the county, Blaine County code is generally quite unrestrictive when it comes to wind turbine construction, county Planner Jeff Adams said. He said that under current county regulations, turbines of any height could be built on agriculture lands.

"That limits us to what we can do if somebody asked for a 100-foot tower," he said.

A tentative date of Aug. 21 has been set for the County Commission to consider the proposed wind turbine moratorium.

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