About 20 residents of the Town of Forest attended last week’s St. Croix County Health and Human Services Board meeting to seek help in their fight against a wind farm proposal.
Forest resident Doris Schmidt told the board members that residents are concerned about possible health issues that may develop among those living close to the 41 wind turbines planned for the township.
She pointed to a turbine project near Green Bay (Brown County) that was installed by Emerging Energies LLC, the developer seeking to construct the Highland Wind Farm in Forest, as an example of what can go wrong when turbines are close to homes.
Brenda Salseg, Forest, said people living near a turbine often complained of headaches, sleep deprivation, anxiety and other health issues. Stray voltage, low-frequency sound and “flicker” from the moving shadow of the blades are among the impacts of wind energy on residents, she added.
“There is no doubt in my mind that there are health issues related to industrial wind turbines,” she said.
Resident Nicole Miller fought back tears as she talked about the possibility that her family’s life on a dairy farm could be disrupted by a wind farm coming in.
“We don’t know if we can afford to move,” she told the board. “We don’t know if we can afford to stay. Any support you could give us would be wonderful.”
Salseg said the Town of Forest was targeted by Emerging Energies because the municipality is not governed by St. Croix County zoning rules. Now the developer wants to squeeze in a bunch of turbines in a relatively small area, impacting residents for miles around, she told the board.
State siting rules allow for a turbine to be placed within 1,250 feet of a residence. Salseg noted that some research indicated that such turbines should be as much as 2,000 feet away from a home.
According to Salseg, there are 21 landowners in the township who have agreed to have turbines placed on their property. That’s a small percentage of the 170 families and 215 households currently in the Town of Forest, she noted.
Forest resident LaVerne Hoitomt said there are places across the nation that make more sense for wind farms. Large tracts of land in states like North Dakota and Nebraska would allow for turbines to be placed well away from houses, he said.
A wind farm in a densely populated place like the Town of Forest makes no sense, he added.
If the wind farm proceeds, Schmidt claimed, Forest residents would likely see a drop in their property values. Property rights would also be compromised, she said, as setbacks from turbines would likely limit what people can build on their properties.
County board member Esther Wentz added that county roads could be in jeopardy if the wind farm goes forward. County and town roads aren’t constructed to a high enough standard to withstand the beating they’d take while the wind farm would be constructed, she claimed.
Pete Kling, director of the county Zoning and Planning Department, said the county has little say when it comes to the placement of turbines in the Town of Forest. The county does have an existing tower ordinance which limits the height of towers to 200 feet, but it’s unclear if that ordinance would include wind turbines. The Forest project would include turbines that could reach almost 500 feet.
Although he had few encouraging words, Kling said county officials continue to research the matter.
“We hear you and we’re working with officials in the Town of Forest,” he said. “These are very complicated issues.”
Ed Thurman, environmental health specialist with St. Croix County, said studies on the health impact of wind turbines is inconclusive. Three studies have been done to date but additional studies are not likely, he said.
Thurman told the board that research seems to indicate that health impacts are “minimal,” so he suggested the officials not take a stand in the matter.
But board member Richard “Buzz” Marzolf said the residents did a good job of laying out their concerns and the Health and Human Services Board should back their efforts to derail the project.
“The research they’ve done is quite apparent,” he said. “I see no reason to delay.”
The board voted unanimously to support a four-part plan of action suggested by the Forest residents in attendance. The Health and Human Services Board, with the help of staff members, will send a letter of “official support” of a Brown County Board of Health resolution on behalf of the Town of Glenmore and the Town of Forest to the State of Wisconsin; file a “Letter of Declaration of Health Concerns” for the Town of Forest residents and residents within the project footprint with the Public Service Commission on PSC Docket 2535-CE-100; petition the state of Wisconsin to “authorize and execute third-party, non-biased health studies in existing wind energy project areas to determine why industrial wind turbines make some individuals sick;” and assist the Town of Forest and residents within the project footprint with a voluntary baseline population health assessment before and after should the Highland Wind project be permitted by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
The residents in the audience applauded following the vote.
“We’ll try to do anything we can to help you,” Wentz said.
After the majority of Forest residents left the meeting, St. Croix County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer told the board that he was “uncomfortable” with the action it took in the matter.
He said his family has had personal experience living near wind turbines and he is not aware of any health issues surrounding them.
“There are two sides to this issue,” he said.
In a telephone interview Monday, Jay Mundinger, founding principal of Emerging Energies, said recent studies indicate that there are no negative health effects of wind turbines near homes. He cited a recent Massachusetts study that there was no health impacts related to wind turbines.
Mundinger said the developer continues to work with state and federal regulators to ensure that the public’s health is not at risk.
He admitted, however, that the comments about health concerns are part of the public process and Emerging Energies welcomes the opportunity to answer any and all questions.
He added that the Highland Wind Farm is “rightly sited” because the turbines would be located in one of the least populated townships in St. Croix County.