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Needed: Evidence

WALNUT — Members of the Walnut Village Board have their work cut out for them.

The board has been trying for a number of months to create an ordinance regulating wind turbines within 1.5 miles of the village limit. On July 5, the board approved an ordinance that would have banned wind turbines within one mile beyond the corporate boundaries. Wind turbines within 1 to 1.5 miles from the village would have been restricted to the industrial use areas on the northwest and southeast areas of the village and require special approval by the board.

The approval was voided, and the issue was tossed back to the board after a public hearing before the village’s planning commission Aug. 1.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, village attorney Rob LeSage discussed two letters he had sent to board members recently.

The first letter provided information on what is happening with wind turbine regulations in Wisconsin. The regulations were set to take effect in March 2011, but in the meantime, Wisconsin got a new governor, who proposed more restrictive regulations. Instead of approving one set or the other, the legislature put a stay on the regulations, and the debate is ongoing.

The second letter included the current regulations in place in Holland, Wis. LeSage said Holland’s regulations are thorough, stringent and evidence-based.

“The town of Holland, I think, went out of their way to try to set the regulations based on evidence,” he said.

LeSage said he has always argued Walnut’s regulations must be reasonable in the legal sense of the word.

“Reasonable, under the law, doesn’t necessarily mean people like them,” he said. “Reasonable means that you have evidence to support your decision.”

LeSage encouraged the board to review the material as well as online studies about wind turbines, both for and against, before taking another vote on an ordinance. He said using the materials was necessary because Walnut is a small town and limited in the amount of testimony for which it can pay.

“I think that the residents of Walnut, and I think the courts, will expect that wherever it is you come down on these issues, whether it’s setbacks, noise or it’s shadow flicker, that it’s based on some evidence,” LeSage said.

LeSage said board members should study the issues and talk with area residents, then bring their findings back to the board for debate.

“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Trustee Lee Sarver.

LeSage said board members might question how to determine whether what they read or hear is right or wrong.

“It’s not your obligation under the law,” he said. “Towns sometimes get it wrong; the question is are you again looking at evidence and making a decision based on that evidence.”

LeSage said he realizes people want to get the issue settled, and he wasn’t recommending delaying the process for long.

“I do think that it’s worth it to spend a little bit of time and make sure you’ve done some research,” he said.

Trustee Debbie Quinn said she needed a little more time, but Trustee Dennis Grobe warned the “time clock was ticking.”

“If we meet three times a week, we have to get going,” said Trustee Lori Wilkinson. “We have to have something in place, or we’re going to get caught.”

Village President Robert Brasen recommended setting Oct. 3 as the date to have a decision made, so the board can vote at its meeting that night and then send the recommendation to the planning commission.

The board set two meetings to discuss the ordinance, on Sept. 12 and Sept. 14, both at 7 p.m. Board members agreed they would focus on sound, shadow flicker and setback issues for the northwest and southeast areas between 1 and 1.5 miles from the village’s borders.

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