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Wind and roads: The Lundgren Wind Project’s progress takes its toll on the ground

Drivers south of Fort Dodge will continue to see extra long, extra heavy loads as wind turbine parts keep rolling into Webster County.

Officials say delivery of turbine parts is complete to 49 of the 107 sites within the Lundgren Wind Project, which is bounded by Otho, Lehigh, Gowrie and Callender.

To get the huge parts to where they need to go – and keep the roads in good shape afterwards – government officials have been working very closely with MidAmerican Energy and Wanzek Construction.

“(Webster County Engineer Randy Will) has weekly meetings, where we sit down and talk about any problems that come up, and resolve any complaints,” said Capt. Chris Moline, of the Motor Vehicle Enforcement division of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“On the enforcement side, motor vehicle enforcement works with the Webster County sheriff’s office,” Moline said.

Those big loads have to receive permits from the state and the county, and Moline said his department periodically checks them to ensure they’re meeting the requirements.

They haven’t posed major issues for drivers, though.

Moline and Webster County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Rod Strait both said there have been essentially no complaints.

“No complaints have come in to the sheriff’s department,” Strait said. “I believe they did get one complaint come in by somebody using the roadway with them, and the company was very proactive. They went out and talked to the family, and took care of things in a very professional manner.”

“I’m pleasantly surprised that the project is going as smoothly as it is right now,” said Moline. “Randy Will … has done a great job in helping coordinate everything.”

Whether a driver should pass those long loads is a judgment call, Strait said.

“On the four-lane, it’s usually safe to pass them. On a two-lane, keep in mind you not only need to pass them, but pass the lead vehicle and the follow vehicle,” he said.

Those extra vehicles have been doing their jobs well, Moline said.

“The whole point of them being required to have these civilian escort vehicles is so that we assist them with movement on the roadway, so the motoring public can operate safely. I think the escort vehicles are doing a pretty good job on that,” he said.

“There are small delays, obviously. For those making a 90-degree turn, there will be small delays as those trucks exit Highway 20 to 169 south, but nothing that would be more than just moments.”

In some cases, the company has to get a permit to shut down a whole gravel road, Strait said, as cranes wide enough to take up the whole road roll from one location to another.

“As the equipment is running down the road, they follow it with the graders. They begin the process of repairing immediately.”

Will urged drivers to use caution at uncontrolled intersections out in the county during the Lundgren construction.

Road conditions

The company has agreed to ensure both the roads and the county drainage ditches are returned to good condition following all the work, Will said.

“As far as the county roads, we have a good, fair, strong road agreement,” he said.

Two motor graders have been dedicated to maintaining the county’s gravel roads, he said. MidAmerican reimburses the county to have engineers on hand looking after the county drainage tiles.

In the past few months, 23 intersections have been widened to allow the delivery of turbine parts along the county roads. Will said temporary modifications have been made at the exit of U.S. Highway 20 as well.

In some cases, more than just grading will be needed.

“The repetition of heavy loads will create soft areas,” he said. “We may have to do more with that.”

Work with MidAmerican to fix all the roads may continue until this time next year, he said.

“Proper road maintenance is critical to the project and the community. Well-maintained roads help ensure safety for the local residents and others who rely on the roads for day-to-day activity, as well as the contractors performing the work,” said Ruth Comer, media relations manager for MidAmerican. “MidAmerican Energy takes a long-term view when constructing and maintaining its projects, and works hard to leave existing infrastructure in the same or better condition than when the project started.”

Part of the agreement states MidAmerican will return the widened intersections to their original state. The heavy loads tend to push the gravel roads themselves wider too.

Homeowners may like the wider roads, Will said, but they would end up costing the taxpayers because there is more road surface to maintain. And the widened intersections will not drain properly if left as they are.

Fact Box

How big are those things?

The turbine blades result in a load 200 feet long – nearly four times as long as a standard semitrailer, according to the Webster County engineer’s oversize load permits. The blade loads weigh 330,000 pounds.

The generators are nearly as long and even heavier at 375,000 pounds.

Each turbine requires three blades, a generator and a hub. The towers themselves are shipped in three separate sections, for eight total truckloads per turbine.

When erected, the turbines are 263 feet tall from the ground to the center of the nacelle – the structure on top to which the blades attach. When fully extended, it is 440 feet from the ground to the tip of the blade, said Ruth Comer, media relations manager for MidAmerican Energy.

Each turbine is capable of producing 2.346 megawatts of wind power, enough to meet the energy needs of approximately 700 average homes.