• Wind power systems meet concern about how towers could alter scenic views
By Naomi Klouda
Homer residents are about to feel a giant tug of war over two notions near and dear to their hearts: a love of ocean front views versus renewable energy – wind power.
If windmills go up on properties lining Kachemak Bay, they could destroy the view, two people testified at the Homer City Council meeting Monday night. An ordinance introduced at the meeting outlines guidelines for those who want to set up wind generation towers. At issue is whether, and under what specifications, the city will allow them. The measure is up for public testimony Aug. 10 and 24.
“I appreciate the hard work of the planning commission,” said Mayor Jim Hornaday, referring to several months of meetings drafting the plan. “These are raging issues in Anchorage, Juneau and other communities. I went out and looked at one of these. I am no art critic, but in my opinion it is nothing but ugly. I listened to it and you can hear it. It’s noise pollution. It’s visual pollution. My understanding is the neighbors could not stop this. These people can go in, fill out the proper forms and put it up.”
The mayor said he can’t imagine “that we would want this in our community.”
Ordinance 09-34 details what the Homer Advisory Planning Commission considered as factors in setting a criteria for small wind energy systems, such as whether to allow them in the city limits, what to do to protect birds from the propeller blades, how will they sound and visual impacts alter Homer. What about height limits on the towers and how far should they be set back on a property.
Commissioners came up with these considerations in the draft ordinance: lots should be at least an acre. The systems should be rated to produce 10 kilowatts or less in residential districts. There should be a minimum blade clearance of 20 feet between lowest point of the blade to the ground. The wind systems will be dealt with through zoning permits and will not need the blessing of the planning commission.
Guide wires cannot go over the lot line, but should be located in the set-back, and that wind systems should be allowed in all districts. Systems that produce more than 10 kilowatts of power will be allowed in industrial and marine industrial areas.
Few testified on the proposal. Local Realtor Terry Yeager told the council he is concerned about the town’s future appearance.
“One of the things we are all living here for is, the among the many things, the beauty of Homer. The city of Homer has an opportunity to establish themselves as a leader in how you folks decide to handle this,” Yeager said. “In the last part of the 1800s when electricity came, all the telephone poles with lines were going everywhere. We have an opportunity here in Homer. Is there a concept where we put them in one specific area in conjunction with Homer Electric, rather than having them scattered all over town?”
Councilman Dennis Novak said requiring a conditional use before allowing a wind tower to go up might be a solution. That way, neighbors could have input.
Erecting wind systems does become an issue for neighbors, not just for people generating power, allowed Councilwoman Francie Roberts. She recommended the public review information contained in the council packet so they could learn more about it.
“Two of the issues were noise and vibration; 50 decibels is the common noise. A routine 80 decibels can go during the day, that is about as loud as a car moving 10 feet away,” she said.
According to the Department of Energy, the price of wind-generated electricity has dropped more than 10-fold, from about 40 cents per kilowatt in 1980 to about 4-6 cents in 2005. Meanwhile, the cost to produce electricity from fossil fuels is on the rise while wind power is not.
Homer resident Leonard Welles commented that he “can’t imagine any place in Homer City limits that you aren’t going to have some people opposed to a neighbor putting anything up.”
He suggested those who live here be given priority, rather than considering absent property owners’ views.
Homer’s portrait to hang
Historian and author, Janet Klein, presented Mayor Hornaday, the council and the residents of Homer a mounted portrait of Homer Pennock, the town’s namesake, at Monday night’s meeting.
Klein had searched for years for an image of the historical figure, a mining company promoter who built mining bunkhouses on the spit in 1896. He soon left, a “confidence” man who tended to bilk investors out of their money. Finally, more recently, his granddaughter living in Nantucket had contacted the Homer Public Library, who then alerted Klein.
“We found we had enough commonalities that I thought it was him. He had a first wife, though his obituary had said he didn’t have children. It turns out, Homer had a first wife, who had four sons, two who died and two who lived to adulthood. One of them had a daughter, who contacted us,” Klein explained in her presentation to the council.
The portrait and a brief text running along side it will be on exhibit in the council chambers.
The city will begin to examine next year’s budget in upcoming meetings. Hornaday said he wanted to put community on notice.
“Unless things change, this will be a difficult budget process. I’m always accused of being too doomsday… but this will be an extremely difficult budget time,” Hornaday said. “We may see services reduced. Whether we will have to get into the employee situation, I don’t know.”
Police call fees
A new measure to charge residents for too-frequent police calls was introduced, Ordinance 09-33, at Monday night’s meeting.
As proposed by Councilwoman Barbara Howard, if more than eight calls are made to the police from a single residence, the resident or his landlord would have to pay $250 for the call.
“The idea is that when police have to pay visits repeatedly to settle disturbances, it becomes an expense to all cities. This (measure) puts property owners on alert that when the city has to go settle disputes or put out fires or arrest people for drunkenness – in this case, eight visits in one calendar year, then the city looks at charging $250 per extra visit.”
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl suggested the ordinance look at five as the maximum number of calls instead, said City Manager Walt Wrede. Anchorage enacted such a law and now charges $500 per call after eight calls.
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