February 21, 2024

Additional turbines would threaten balloon days

With the annual Southwest Iowa Hot Air Balloon Days’ success so reliant on weather conditions, additional wind turbines in Union County would create another challenge according to balloon day officials.

During Monday’s Union County Board of Supervisors meeting, Roger Lanning, the balloonmeister of the event told the supervisors how the September festivities would change. The balloonmeister is the chairman of the organization. Since late last year, county officials have been informed of proposed expansion of wind turbines mainly in southern parts of the county. Earlier this year, the county approved a suspension of additional turbine growth to give time to review and possibly change the county’s ordinance. Supervisors have spent weeks on reviewing setback distances; the minimum required space between a turbine and a property or structure.

No action was taken.

“Any of those turbines to the south, southeast or southwest could potentially be an issue,” Lanning said about the areas near Creston’s airport where additional turbines have been suggested. Creston’s airport is key in the balloon flights. The event is a competition where pilots drop sandbags on targets placed on the airport’s runway and other locations.

“They like them to go at least a mile out to make it a good competition,’ Lanning said. ‘Think about that. You go a mile out, but you got to find a property where you can take off from. It might end up to be two miles. It might end tup to be three miles. They are going to want stay as close as they can to that 1 mile to alleviate any potential deviation in the winds.”

Lanning said he accompanied a pilot in 2021 and flew from the airport northwest to locate a target area. He said they approached Adams County with its turbines in the northeast corner. Finding a place to land was priority. “It gets a little nerve-wracking. I was with a very experienced pilot, but yet our options were getting somewhat limited.”

Lanning said additional wind turbines could shorten the list of possible places to lift off and land. The fewer of those places, the fewer pilots will be interested in attending Creston’s event. The ordinance includes a 1 mile radius for a turbine to be from the airport. Lanning said there are also farmers who have cattle on pasture land and do not want to be used for a take off or landing site. Corn and soybean fields, nearing harvest stage, are also avoided.

“We have to have a certain number of balloons and sponsors to make the event break even,” he said. “If we get down to 10 and 15 balloons, it’s probably going to cease to exist.”

Supervisor Dennis Hopkins asked if the Union County turbines, concentrated in northwest Union County, have had any impact on the event since installed in 2020. Lanning said it’s been minimal because of their location. In the past, there have been balloon flights that went in a northern direction. Pilots can’t steer a balloon like an airplane as they only have the ability to change elevation. Wind directions can change at higher elevations.

“If we get them to the south, it will be a lot bigger issue because of proximity and wind directions,” he said.

Creston Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ellen Gerharz said a couple from New Jersey vacationed in Iowa last year and included balloon days on their schedule. Because of the weather, there were no flights.

“We draw in a lot of people,” Gerharz said. “It’s an identifying fact for Creston and Union County we do the balloon days and it’s a positive.”

“Everybody is trying to make money,” said Supervisor Dennis Hopkins.

Supervisors also reviewed decommissioning; when a turbine is no longer needed and is determine who is responsible for its removal. Hopkins said what the county had suggested for required funds in 2020 does not come close to amounts suggested by the Center for Rural Affairs.

Hopkins wants the amount and wording to be viable for multiple years so it’s not reviewed annually. Supervisor Rick Friday said his research showed a turbine’s operational life starts to be questioned after 10 years.

Supervisor Dennis Brown attended a portion of the meeting via telephone.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.