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Clay County sets stricter rules for wind turbines

MOORHEAD - The Clay County Commission approved an ordinance Tuesday that establishes standards stricter than state law on where wind turbines can be erected and how noisy they can be at night.

The new rules apply to projects not regulated by the state, which are those that generate less than 5 megawatts of power.

The new ordinance, approved unanimously, requires wind towers to be 1,500 feet away from neighboring homes.

The state standard is 500 feet.

The county ordinance sets a noise limit of 40 decibels between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The night noise limit set by the state is 50 decibels.

While the county ordinance applies to relatively small projects, the developer of a proposed wind farm in Clay County has said the rules could threaten that project because state regulators are required to consider local rules when deciding whether to grant a permit.

An official with Project Resources Corp., the company behind the proposed Lakeswind project, wouldn't say on Tuesday whether the new ordinance will change the company's plans.

But Diana Wilson said Project Resources is relying on statements made by county officials that the new ordinance will not apply to Lakeswind, which is looking to set up 20 to 30 towers in western Minnesota, with about a third of those in Clay County.

In other business, commission Chairman Jerry Waller said he is hearing complaints from county residents that not enough is being done to enforce an ordinance that prohibits using so-called Jake brakes, which involves using a truck's engine compression to stop a truck, usually in a very noisy fashion.

Matt Siiro, the county's chief deputy, said the ordinance is difficult to enforce because some intersections do not provide cover for officers to watch and wait for violators.

He said the Sheriff's Department would "step up enforcement a little bit," particularly in areas around Downer, a town that sees heavy truck traffic.

The commission also heard from county Social Services Director Rhonda Porter, who said the state has asked the county to provide welfare fraud prevention services to Becker County.

Porter said the state has increased its funding for Clay County's prevention program, but case numbers are also growing.

As of the end of June, the county had investigated 172 cases in 2009, resulting in savings of at least $107,513. In 2008, the county investigated a total of 263 cases, resulting in welfare savings of at least $94,489.

The average welfare fraud caseload for Minnesota counties is 35 cases a month.

Porter said Clay County's average caseload had been around 24 cases a month, but this year it is closer to 29.

She said if Clay County takes Becker County's caseload, it could represent an additional 11 cases a month.

Commissioners suggested Porter talk with state officials to find out more about the possible effects of such an arrangement on Clay County.

Porter told commissioners it's possible the state would relocate the fraud prevention program to another county if Clay County refuses to provide the service to Becker County.