One recent major development regarding the O’Brien County Highland Wind Farm substation elevated an already contentious issue to an even loftier level when a crowd gathered from the Kevin and Jen Mars neighborhood to support them at the May 6 O’Brien County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Two substation issues will now center the Board’s attention on energy matters for some time to come.
Many farmers took time off from a late and hectic planting season to hear the Board begin discussions about these substation issues and the likelihood of amending the O’Brien County Wind Energy Device Ordinance #22.
Present in the crowd was Daryl Haack the O’Brien County Landowners Association president, O’Brien County Attorney Micah Schreurs, and the attorney for Kevin and Jen Mars.
However, first on the agenda was a 25-minute presentation from E C Source and Environmental Energy Group (EEG) regarding the MidAmerican Energy Company proposed substation in Section 21, Lincoln Township. Nearby landowner Kelly Ney listened as the project’s construction officials presented detailed information.
Because of recent developments in the Highland wind farm substation situation, both Kevin Mars and Kelly Ney asked to be included on the May 6th supervisor’s agenda after EEG presented their report on the planned Lincoln Township substation. DeBoom asked Mars and Ney to speak to their individual concerns.
While holding a print-off of an article published in the Cherokee Chronicle Times the previous day, Ney began by saying, “Everybody must be clairvoyant because there’s going to be a hearing on June 24th about whether this transmission line is legal to come in here.”
“We’re not part of that,” E C Source’s VP Peter Demars indicated.
“There’s no reason to build this substation, if the transmission line can’t come in here,” Ney claimed. “In case you don’t know, the hearing is at 10:00 A.M. at the Kossuth County Courthouse on June 24th.”
“We haven’t been advised of that hearing,” said Demars. “We’re the contractor.”
“If I bought a piece of property and decided I wanted to build a hog building on it, there are rules about that,” said Ney. “And if I bought that without finding out that I could put something there, that’s my tough luck. I wasn’t very smart about buying that piece of property.
“I don’t feel a bit sorry for MEC if they wasted their money thinking they could shove something through. They may have to move it. That’s the way it is,” Ney asserted.
“I’ve also seen dairies put up and then have to make restitution or get bought out,” said Friedrichsen.
“Exactly,: said Ney, “and that’s the biggest thing going forward that’s really sad is the collateral damage to something like this. But, before they ever get a permit, they should already have made it right with the people that are too close to it before the permit is issued, not an afterthought that this is how we do business.
“They bought a piece of ground they’ve got to put a substation on it. Those 345 kV power lines run all over the place. The fact that this one is right across from where someone lives wasn’t very considerate thought on MEC’s part. And we’ve got to start representing the people of O’Brien County instead of corporations. And I’ve got a list of plenty of people on my print-off that talk about the great economic benefits from this.
“I’ll admit there are economic benefits to this. They’re selling booze and food to people that’s putting it up. They have to lodge them. They have to buy their gas here. The shortcoming here is to the landowner. They are paying $16,000 for wind mills out in Colorado placed on rock piles. They can’t believe they can get land this cheap and people are that willing to do it. That’s why they’re here. People will figure it out.
“I dare MEC to put an ad in a newspaper saying that for anybody that writes a check for their money back by 5:00 on Friday night is out of the project. I dare MEC to put that ad in there because I know how people feel about what MidAmerican Energy Company is doing here,” Ney asserted.
Mars then addressed the Board. “I guess I’m here to talk about the MEC substation across from me. Tish Halvorson is my lawyer and she’s here. The County Attorney (Micah Schruers) is here. And we’ve had another lawyer look at this. I just want to reiterate too, they all think there is something here.
“Do not back off on this thing. They think there is something for you guys to go forward with because the wording in Ordinance #22 is not – you guys think its grey – it’s not. That’s a wind energy conversion device. That substation should not go within 1,200 feet just like your ordinance says. It’s in there guys,” said Mars.
However, Schruers stepped in to caution Mars and said, “For the record and on behalf of the county, I think you are overstating the County’s position. That ordinance we are going to have to take a closer look at it. I’ll talk to the Board about it, but don’t misquote me on that.”
“But Tish has looked at it. It’s in there guys. We feel it is. All these people are sitting here because they’ve looked at this ordinance and they feel it too,” answered Mars. “Please stand up for the citizens of O’Brien County. MEC is starting to do a little dirt work out there. I think you guys can file an injunction against them until this gets settled,” Mars implored. “Let’s get it settled.”
The weight of the added information that Mars just revealed reverts back to the April 29th meeting. At that earlier contentious meeting, Mars explained how MEC hadn’t yet executed their option to formally purchase the 40-acre substation tract. However, since that pivotal meeting, MEC went forward and finalized their purchase of that 40-acre tract from Lowell Wilson.
Mars continued, “Let’s get it settled first before they do one more ounce of dirt work out there. Let’s get some answers first before they keep going.
“They haven’t shown one schematic drawing of what it’s going to look like or where that power line is going. Don’t you think MEC should come out and show the landowners and the tenants the drawings of what it will look like? They haven’t shown any plans of where the underground interconnecting cable circuits coming into the substation are going.
“Can you imagine what Dad’s farm will look like? MEC has never once come out and told us what that’s going to look like. They could tear the whole farm up,” said Mars. “Like my uncle Gordon says, MEC doesn’t care. That’s what I’m getting from this is they don’t care. And so that’s why we’re here is to ask that you look at this thing.
“Like I’ve said before and I want to say in front of everybody that’s here, Invenergy was supposed to find MEC two suitable sites. Invenergy found two suitable sites. There’s one that’s acceptable to MEC. But, there is a second site down south. It’s going to cost MEC a lot more money to go there. But they can go there and there’s nobody living there within 1,200 feet of anybody at that site.
“You are not holding up this project. You are just making them follow what they should be doing in the first place. That’s all we are asking them to do. If they move down there, this all goes away. Or, otherwise, settle up with me and the whole neighborhood. What I’m saying is MEC is going to affect our whole neighborhood. My cousin Tracy has a new home there. Others want to build new homes too. My folks have a new house. This thing is bigger than 15 – 1,200 foot setbacks. MEC needs to settle with everybody in the neighborhood and get this right!” Mars concluded.
(Editor’s note: MidAmerican Substations Saga Festers (Part V) will discuss the County Attorney’s initial reaction to the likelihood of the County filing an injunction against MEC forcing them to stop construction on the Highland wind farm substation site across from Kevin and Jen Mars on 410th street in Section 9, Dale Township.)
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