• After weeks of testimony for and against, the council passes an ordinance allowing residents to set up wind generation systems
By Naomi Klouda
Setting up wind turbines inside city limits is now allowed after action by the Homer City Council Monday night.
Homer is one of the first Alaska towns, after Valdez, to pass laws setting guidelines on turbine height, acreage requirements and whether or not a person would have to get his neighbor’s permission before generating wind power.
That’s the way it should be – Homer as a leader in climate action work, said Council Member Beth Wythe.
“We passed the climate action plan. When we did that, we chose to not have all these other provisions in place before moving forward,” Wythe said, referring to a plan passed by the city to lower energy consumption across the departments by using new policies. “We will move forward and we will encourage the people in our community to use environmental (awareness) in their lives. Except not wind towers because that impedes our scenic view? I’m not a fan of seeing windmills in the front yards, but I will not vote against this … We own it and now we need to back it up with our actions here.”
Council woman Barbara Howard agreed. “We enacted the climate action plan and it needs more than changing light bulbs.”
The ordinance can be monitored and revisited, Howard pointed out, for refinements later where necessary.
After hearing dozens of high octane opinions concerning whether Homer should allow wind generators or not, the council’s vote was nearly unanimous in passing the ordinance. Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Novak wanted an amendment to require anyone seeking to set up a wind turbine on their property to first receive a conditional use permit from the Homer Planning and Advisory Commission. But other council members disagreed this would be necessary for turbines generating 10 kilowatts or less. Anything over that will require a CUP, which means going through the public review process.
The planning commission didn’t want to tie up wind-turbine requests, said Planning Director Rick Abboud. “We didn’t want to wrangle up everyone in a CUP every time one went up. If we’re going to allow it, we’re going to do it and not on a case by case basis. We didn’t want a lot of debate on each one,” he told the council.
But Novak felt it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go through the review process on each one.
“One thing that really troubles me is if it’s under 10k I can’t say anything about it. I don’t have a legal recourse to question it. That is why I want to postpone this, to address that – I think it’s a valid concern that some people who feel they won’t (otherwise) have a say on it,” Novak said. He wanted the ordinance postponed until the second meeting in September in order to accommodate neighbor’s concerns.
Local realtor Terry Yeager also wanted to see the matter tabled until later.
“Everyone likes to have a clean energy source that is inexpensive. But the concern is the density inside of city limits,” Yeager said. “I would like to see the borough take the lead on this. If the city takes action on size limitations and noise, then so much new technology is coming on board, it would exclude so many residents.”
But Council member Francie Roberts said she felt work already completed by the Homer Planning Department and the planning commission, which took months in research and discussion, is a good start.
“I have been around town to visit wind towers and investigate the noise. Since receiving this (packet), I’ve read a lot, and learned a lot that I didn’t know before. This is actually a very nice ordinance. They did a good job,” Roberts said.
Much of the testimony against allowing the turbines related to view obstruction and creating an unpleasant noise situation, as well as potentially killing birds. Those wanting the turbines thought lot size requirement would exclude people with less land. As it is, a resident needs to own more than an acre to put one up.
Sharon Minsch, chair of the planning commission, told the council more birds are killed by cars and from running into home windows than ever by wind turbines. The acreage requirements were suggested in order to ensure safety. If a 100-foot tower were to fall, for example, it would need 110 feet of space to be free from streets and other people’s property, she said.
One amendment that did pass relates to not allowing wind turbines in the Gateway District or in yet-to-be developed Town Center. Beth Wythe said she wanted these areas excluded because this would protect views as people enter town down Baycrest Hill. Planning Director Abboud pointed out these areas would likely be excluded anyway because of the lot sizes.
In other matters:
Pratt Museum funding
Heather Beggs, executive director of the Pratt Museum, gave a presentation to the city council Monday night that outlined more than $1 million in economic contributions to the town’s economy.
As the City of Homer enters budget talks set for next month, Beggs wanted to provide an updated report on the economic impact of the museum. Though the Pratt receives only 14 percent of its budget from the city, it is able to leverage for 60 percent of its funding.
It’s an art form to put together the museum’s budget, Beggs said. Some $84,000 was trimmed from its $600,000 budget in order to live in the tougher economic climate of dwindled grant dollars. A McDowel Group study pointed out Homer’s Pratt received the second highest percentage of non-resident museum visits in the state at 18 percent or 27,540 of the total 153,000 people visiting in 2008. It also purchased services from 73 businesses or entities in Homer for an economic contribution of $1 million.
The building campaign of capital improvements is expected to provide employment for 48 people in the first phase and 55 people in the second phase, she pointed out, which will provide a boon in struggling economic times.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Bill Smith gave a presentation to the city council, speaking on behalf of the borough to encourage residents to prepare ahead of time for natural or man-made disasters.
National Preparedness Month is September and Sept. 11 is a national day of service and remembrance, Smith said. If people use this day to prepare for man-made or natural disasters, they will be prepared should flood, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires etc., strike, not to mention man-made things.
As a side note, Smith told the council Homer has a higher per capita ratio of emergency responders than the national average. There is one firefighter per every 280 people nationally, whereas Homer has 212 per person. Paramedics average one per 325 people nationally while Homer’s ratio is 279 per person.
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