More than 50 people gathered for the Union County Board of Supervisors’ second public hearing of a proposed wind ordinance Thursday evening at the Union County Courthouse. Several attendees spoke against having wind farms at all; some spoke for the rights of landowners to use their land as they see fit. Many people asked questions or made suggestions for changes to the ordinance.
Seven people signed up to speak in favor of the proposed ordinance. Those who spoke for the ordinance mentioned the benefits to the landowners and the county. Landowners would receive payments from the wind farm companies. The county would benefit from the taxes paid on the turbines. According to Matt Ott of MidAmerican Energy, the taxes could be as high as $74 million over 40 years for the project currently proposed by MidAmerican.
Doug Geidel said he has three wind turbines near his home and does not feel the noise is a problem.
Ron Gordon, Union County resident landowner, said that if the windmills are going to be installed, Union County residents should be able to benefit from them. He also stated the county should allow as many wind turbines as possible to maximize the tax revenue.
Randy Miller spoke about government grants being given to wealthy businesses and said wind farming is a new concept that is essentially the same process. He reminded attendees of the complaints the hog confinements near Three Mile Lake received – that they would lower property values. He said, instead, many new houses have been built there.
Twelve attendees spoke against the wind farm ordinance or asked questions about it. Those who spoke against the ordinance reiterated many of the same concerns from the first public hearing, Monday.
Lori Jeter read from a commentary written by Janna Swanson, published in Wallace’s Farmer.
“Wind turbines are not fiscally responsible, and they violate the property rights of Iowans,” Jeter read.
Swanson’s commentary also mentioned birds and bats, which she claimed are being killed by the turbines, and the intimidation tactics she says that MidAmerican is using against tenants who do not want to sign agreements with the company.
Layne Fischer, who has an small acreage in Union County, protested against the noise and red lights. He called the wind turbines an “eyesore.”
Bill Bolinger, a Union County resident landowner who said he is not completely against the turbines, said from his experience when the wind is above 20 miles per hour, the noise is so loud a person would not be able to sleep in a house near it.
Tanya Lamb, Adair County resident, spoke against the Fish and Wildlife Service’s legislation that exempts wind power companies from penalties for the deaths or “incidental take” of up to 42,000 bald eagles and questioned the plan to allow MidAmerican to set its own value on the turbines for tax purposes.
Dorothy McNaught, Union County landowner and resident, read a letter she had written enumerating the possible impacts of wind turbines on non-participating landowners. She talked about the constant noise of the turbines versus the expectation of a quiet country life. She also said she was concerned about the underground cement, which may not be completely removed after the life of the tower expires, interfering with plants’ abilities to reach deep into the soil for water and nutrients.
Joanie Finck responded to a previous speaker’s claim that landowners who have allowed wind farming on their land do not complain by saying that the easement agreement with the power company includes a “hush clause” which legally bars the participating landowners from speaking out against the power company.
Several speakers had suggestions for changing the ordinance.
Bolinger advocated providing compensation for non-participating landowners who are inconvenienced by nearby turbines. Jerry Poor suggested that the revenue from windmills be used to upgrade county roads.
Several speakers said they believe the setbacks should be at a greater distance from non-participating landowners and the distance should be measured from the property line instead of an occupied dwelling.
Darrian Fischer suggested there should be more than three meetings.
Riley replied this has been on the board’s agenda for 6months.
There was a general murmur from the gallery.
“We didn’t know about it,” said one attendee.
Other attendees spoke up and pointed out that it has been announced on the radio and published in the newspaper.
Brown quieted the gallery, reminding them Fischer had the floor to speak.
Geidel suggested that the board lessen the setbacks.
Many questions were raised during the hearing, which were answered by members of the board, County Attorney Tim Kenyon and Ott.
Q: Does the ordinance cover leases that are already signed?
A: Yes, the ordinance covers any structure that is not already in place.
Q: Is the offset for parks measured from the boundary or a focal point?
A: The offset is from the property line of publicly owned conservation areas.
Q: What size turbines will be installed?
A: (Ott) The size of the turbines is determined by many factors – including the manufacturing process.
Q: What happens if the power company goes bankrupt and does not have the money to remove its windmills or abandons them?
A: The decommissioning plan, which must accompany each wind farm project, requires an estimate of removal costs and a bond or fund equal to the removal costs.
Editor’s note: The decommissioning plan grants the board the right to require a bond or fund; it does not mandate it.
Q: Where does money go?
A: The tax money goes to Union County.
Q: Will the public be allowed to have input on how the money is spent?
A: Union County Board of Supervisors meetings, where the budget is discussed, are open to the public.
Q: Why is the setback different for cities than it is for non-participating landowners?
A: Municipalities have zoning authority beyond the city limits. The county has a tradition of respecting the authority of the city. The unincorporated areas of Union County currently have no zoning laws.
Q: Power lines work best in straight lines. Will the underground lines go through non-participating land?
A: In order to go through non-participating land, the company would have to get an easement from the non-participating landowners. No use of eminent domain is planned.
Editor’s note: The use of eminent domain is not addressed in the ordinance.
Q: Will the wind turbines interfere with cell phones and internet service?
A: Wind turbines must comply with all Federal Communications Commission regulations.
Q: If the board decides to make changes in the ordinance, would the three readings start over?
A: The readings would only need to start over if there are substantial changes, enough to essentially be a new ordinance.
Kenyon recommended to the board not to waive the third reading of the proposed ordinance because of the amount of public interest in the process.
He also emphasized that there is currently no ordinance in place.
Kenyon compared the ordinance to a speed limit, saying there used to be no speed limit in Union County and now there is. At the moment, any company or individual could build a wind turbine in an unincorporated area of Union County with no oversight from the board of supervisors. He said this proposed ordinance will allow the board to monitor wind farm projects and preserve the rights of nearby landowners.
Kenyon also reiterated that a board approval of the reading does not make it go into effect. The approval would only allow the proposed ordinance to go on to the next step.
The board approved the reading of the ordinance with a unanimous vote.
A third public reading will be set at a later date and published on the Union County website, KSIB radio, the Afton Star and the Creston News Advertiser.
The proposed wind farm ordinance, a road use agreement and the decommissioning plan are all available on the Union County website, unioncountyiowa.org.
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