By Gordon Hopkins
A meeting was held at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Tuesday, March 22 and county commissioners voted unanimously to extend a moratorium preventing consideration of any new wind farm applications for up to a year, ending on April 1, 2023. That moratorium has already been in place for six months.
However, commissioners also indicated the moratorium could end sooner.
Commissioners first established the moratorium on September 15, 2021, for the purpose of reviewing and revising regulations governing wind farms in Jefferson County.
The moratorium was enacted to respond to changing technology. Wind turbines can now be considerably taller than those currently existing at Steele Flats, a wind farm in Steele City built several years ago. The Planning and Zoning Committee were given the job of recommending changes to those regulations. It was then up to the commissioners to approve them. However, commissioners have stated they are not satisfied with the recommendations and intend Planning and Zoning to revisit the issue.
The reason for extending the moratorium is to allow more research into how the new regulations will impact non-participating landowners, but also to allow time for more public input.
Commission Chairman Mark Schoenrock said, “Those who I represent, the people who elected me in my district have overwhelmingly spoken that they want modified standards pertaining to the commercial, the energy conversion system zoning recommendation made by the Planning and Zoning Committee, and they want a voice in the process of determining those standards.”
County commissioners and members of the Planning and Zoning Committee have all expressed frustration at the lack of community involvement in the process.
While the process has been going on for over six months, many individuals have complained that they only found out about the proposed changes in the last few weeks, despite being heavily advertised in print and online, as well as a series of stories published by FJN throughout the entire process.
At a meeting of county commissioners on March 8, Danielle Schwab said, “But I do find it interesting that every citizen I’ve talked to does not know it’s happening. That concerns me. That’s why I’m in the fight.”
Schwab said, “I feel like something is underhanded.”
When FJN asked Schwab what she meant by “underhanded,” she reiterated, “I’m saying for whatever reason, every single person I have talked to had no idea it was happening in the Jefferson County area.”
“Why should we be penalized now?” asked Josh Wietzki at that same meeting. “We’re here now.”
Josh Wietzki is the husband of Jenna Wietzki, who created a Facebook group called Jefferson County Wind Watchers, previously called Jefferson County Alliance for Informed Wind Decisons (sic). That Facebook group was created June 30, 2021 and, as of press time, has 245 members.
A Legal Warning
Jefferson County Attorney Joseph Casson spoke at the meeting and he issued a warning to commissioners, suggesting the county could be in legal jeopardy if they make the regulations too restrictive, “And I’m saying to you, you can’t use the regulations to legislate wind towers out of existence in Jefferson County.”
However, he also pointed out, “We can change the regulation so that it’s (wind turbines) no longer a permitted use. That’s something that you have the authority to do.”
By Gordon Hopkins