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Oregon county tweaks 2-mile setback exemptions to address state objections

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Last June, Umatilla County adopted wind farm siting rules that required a 2-mile setback from homes and towns, but allowed homeowners to waive that requirement if they so desired.  This approach is similar to what AEI and others have been recommending, in that it protects rural landowners from unwanted sound while allowing construction closer to residents who don’t mind hearing turbines more often or more loudly. Note: Those encouraging such “larger setbacks with readily-obtained waivers” approach suggest various minimum setbacks, ranging from 3000 feet to 2 or 3 miles; 2km (1.25 miles) is a common suggestion.

The county rule was quickly challenged, and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) recently sent some aspects of the rule back to the county for clarification. The LUBA didn’t object to the 2-mile setback, but said that the county cannot designate the power to waive the setback requirement to individuals or towns.  Over the past month, County Commissioners have been working to come up with new language that addresses LUBA’s concerns.   They considered options including imposing the 2-mile setback with no waivers, granting variances by request from landowners, and establishing specific standards for granting waivers.  In the end, they chose to have variance requests use the county’s existing variance process, by which individuals or towns can request variances to any county regulations; the county then considers the request and makes the decision about whether to grant the waiver.  This should meet the LUBA’s objections, while maintaining the original intent of the rules, which aimed to balance concerns about maintaining rural amenity with allowing wind farms to build near willing neighbors.  According to Umatilla County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott, “The county clearly adopted a policy in support of wind development.”

As reported in the East Oregonian:

Bend attorney Bruce White, representing a local resident who wants to lease land to a wind developer, disagreed and argued the comprehensive plan issues are not just a checklist to work through, but represent a fundamental bias against wind energy in the county.  “The problem with that is you can have clear and objective standards, but if they’re so onerous — and in this case we believe they are — then whether they’re clear and objective or not does not encourage wind energy development,”?he said. “What this does, basically, is tell wind energy developers to go somewhere else.”

Commissioner Dennis Doherty, after discussing policy issues with White for a half-hour, said he understood the attorney’s stance. But he said finding a balance between state demands for renewable energy and the quality of life for those living near wind turbines, motivated his decision to continue on the path the commissioners started on in June.


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