September 29, 2010

Wind turbines among concerns at county meeting

By: ASHLEY PETERSON, Owatonna People's Press, 29 September 2010

OWATONNA – A proposal to place eight wind turbines along County Road 12 in rural Medford has raised the concern of several residents who say that the turbines and the stray voltage from them might adversely affect dairy farm operations in the area.

The residents expressed their concerns at a meeting of the Steele County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, where the board was considering a conditional use permit request from Rush Creek Wind Farm for turbines.

The request had been tabled at the board’s Aug. 9 meeting and sent back to the planning commission.

“It’s too close to us,” Barb Kasper from Medford’s Kashome Holsteins told the commissioners. “Dairy cows are so sensitive to stray voltage.”

But Steele County Planning and Zoning Director Dale Oolman told the commissioners that three separate entities – Alliant Energy, Southern Municipal Power and Steele County-Waseca Co-op – were consulted regarding the Rush Creek Wind request and were “none too concerned with stray voltage with this type of proposal,” Oolman said.

Alliant Energy also offered free voltage testing before and during construction of the turbines as well as yearly after they are online.

But the rural Medford residents who are opposing the turbines were concerned with more than preliminary voltage tests.

Another Medford resident also opposed to the turbines said her family is Springer Limited Partnership, the land owners Rush Creek Wind is leasing from to build the turbines on. The woman said her mother would have to sign any agreements for land use and she has not done so, nor has her brother approved any lease of land.

Oolman interjected that Frank Springer from Springer Family Partnership had signed the lease and that was enough to warrant the board to consider the CUP.

“If there is a contractual difference, that needs to be settled somewhere other than here,” Board Chairman Tom Shea said of the lease. “Our purpose tonight is to either issue the permit or deny the permit for the building. The application is in order … That’s the jurisdiction we’re set to say here tonight.”

After a lengthy debate between the board, Kasper and Aaron Fitzgerald from Rush Creek Wind, the board amended multiple conditions of the CUP and set out to make a final decision.

Commissioner Bruce Kubicek was most concerned for the well being of the Kasper’s cows.

“I’m trying to protect one of the few dairies left in our county,” he said. “I still have doubts as to the benefit of the community for this particular project,” Kubicek said.

Shea said he had received enough information to approve the CUP.

“I understand the other concerns from operational to cosmetic,” Shea said. “But it’s not good public policy to change planning and zoning rules on the fly.”

Kasper was then given one more chance to comment.

“When we start filing lawsuits against this company, I hope they are going to be behind this lawsuit and it will be very costly … We will be out of the dairy district,” she said.

In a motion to approve, three commissioners approved the CUP with Kubicek voting against the project, meaning the CUP was approved.

The board then decided to review the ordinance on towers or turbine projects with more than one turbine on less than five megawatts to “make it more fair for the next applicant and also the residents.”

The wind turbine permit wasn’t the only controversial conditional use permit the council was asked to grant Tuesday. The first was Sunrich’s request for a permit to put in a 20,000-gallon liquid propane tank at its facility in Hope – a request that was tabled previously in order for the board to gather more information on the statutes and ordinances at hand.

Oolman said the planning commission looked at other applicable standards from throughout the state and compared those to the Sunrich request.

“The planning commission approved the permit,” Oolman said. “Their justification was if an accident happened, the most likely (culprit) would be spilling – the less times you fill, the less chance of spilling.”

Oolman recommended approval from the board with six conditions, which included that the tanks be used for LP only, that no retail sale of the LP be permitted, and that the tank’s placement be as far west as allowed by code on Sunrich’s property.

Commissioners then unanimously approved the permit request with Oolman’s suggested conditions.

In other business the board:

• Approved an interim use permit (IUP) for Medford Properties gravel pit with 15 conditions.

• Granted authorization to advertise and fill an administrative assistant position with probation services.

• Assessed concerns regarding the jobs/residents at Cedarview Care Center. The board said the process is in final negotiations and all staff would be guaranteed a position and every resident of Cedarview would have a place to stay at the new facility, slated to open no sooner than 18 months from now.

• Approved the hiring of an assistant emergency management director at half time for four months.

• Approved a six-month lease agreement for the relocation of the county shop which was affected by last week’s floods.

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