Questions surfaced at recent O’Brien County supervisors meetings over the perceived closeness of Highland wind turbine sites 1.7 miles north of the Paullina Municipal Airport runway. Local Paullina pilot Brian Feltman, who routinely uses the airport, was the first to argue that wind turbine sites may present a hazard.
Feltman and others involved with City of Paullina officials concerning airport matters say that these Highland turbine sites should have never received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval.
In a July 11, 2014 Cherokee Chronicle Times feature story titled, “The Art of Building a Wind Farm,” the article explained the critical role of the FAA’s Obstruction Evaluations Group in reviewing and approving proposed wind farm projects.
A link to that earlier Cherokee Chronicle Times story can be found here at www.chronicletimes.com/story/2099547.htm… [http://www.chronicletimes.com/story/2099547.html]
At the Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2014 meeting, County Auditor Barb Rohwer conveyed details of a recent conversation she’d had with Feltman when he came in to examine Highland Wind Farm construction permit documentation. Feltman primarily wanted to study the FAA documents.
Feltman had been expressing his concerns to supervisor Dan Friedrichsen in recent weeks. Rohwer asked Friedrichsen who the people were from the state that Feltman was getting his information from. Friedrichsen replied, “The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) and their Iowa Aviation Division. That’s all I was told.”
“Those towers aren’t even up yet. How do they know?” said supervisor Jim DeBoom, in questioning the concerns now being voiced at this late date.
In describing Feltman’s visit, Rohwer said, “Brian came in here last week and asked to see the documents showing where the FAA had approved the sites. Can you show me which wind towers you are concerned about, I asked him.”
Feltman studied a nearby map of the Highland wind farm and said, “Sites 154, 155, 86 and alternate site 16.” Rohwer said she pulled the documentation for those sites and made copies for him.
Rohwer then reported some details from a Paullina City Council meeting from the night before. “City clerk Sandy Fritz called me this morning. They want to come to the supervisor’s meeting next Tuesday. I told Sandy it would be at 10 a.m.,” Rohwer reported.
“Mayor Mike Otto sent an email on behalf of the City that went to the O’Brien County Economic Development office,” Rohwer added.
Supervisor Tom Farnsworth confirmed that it went to the Kiana Johnson and then proceeded to read aloud the communication that summed up their concerns.
The City’s statement to the County said, in part, “At last night’s city council meeting, we were informed that the wind mills located north of the Paullina Municipal Airport will create a possible hazard for planes taking off to the north.
“Do you have a height specification for wind mills being installed in O’Brien County? We were told last night that it takes 500 feet of elevation to clear the wind mills. Is that correct?
“We were told that the towers were 300 feet and the blades made up the rest of the height. Two pilots attending last night’s meeting said their planes can’t achieve 500 feet of elevation in the distance from the runway to the nearest tower which creates a hazard to them.
“They are also afraid that it will limit the functionality of the airport for crop dusters that normally use our airport each year.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I think this all goes back to Invenergy and their dealings with MidAmerican and the FAA,” said supervisor Jim DeBoom.
Rohwer related part of an email from Wind Energy Supervisor Adam Jablonski with MidAmerican Energy. “Jablonski says,” said Rohwer, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but Erin Brush with Invenergy provided you with all the information with those near the Paullina airport. The FAA gave approvals and they showed no hazard to air traffic.”
Paullina airport matter discussed
At the Tuesday, Feb. 10 meeting, Sandy Fritz and Brian Feltman expressed their concerns regarding the Dale Township turbine sites 1.7 miles north of the runway. Fritz provided financial data that showed what the financial impact of the airport was to the City.
Her statistics showed how much revenue the airport brings in with a substantial amount coming from Ag pilots who use the airport for spraying crops. The economic impact study the City did showed that the Paullina airport means a $2 billion impact to our area, she reported.
“For the City of Paullina, the airport is a definite benefit for us. Is there anything we can do to get those four towers moved or located somewhere else?” she questioned.
Feltman then explained his concerns from a small plane pilot’s perspective. Feltman said, “I’ve talked to several people with the IDOT Aviation Division and an inspector.”
Let me read to you what the inspector sent back, said Feltman. “I’ve recently become aware of some close wind towers near the Paullina airport concerning their proximity to this public use facility. I understand the proponent has completed the required 7460 form with the FAA and has undergone the necessary review process.
A determination of ‘no hazard to air navigation’ was determined. When the FAA reviews the airspace, they take into account Part 77 airspace. The FAA determination does not prevent the proponent from building their proposal. But instead, it provides a basis for local zoning to deny the approval,” the inspector wrote, while explaining his thinking on how the FAA ruling should be applied.
However, Feltman explained his understanding by insisting, “Basically, that’s saying that the FAA ‘no hazard’ report is pretty general. It doesn’t override local control. So you, as the supervisors, can do what you see fit for our area.”
Feltman continued, “I’ve talked to a couple of AG pilots that spray crops for Farmers Coop and Ag Partners. A fully loaded spray plane can only climb at the rate of 100′ per minute. My plane, for instance, on a hot summer day is going to climb at 400′ per minute. I’m not getting paid to fly my plane, but these Ag pilots are.”
“Yes, you’re outside the legal limits according to the FAA. The FAA and the state aviation authority seem to smash heads here a little bit because we can not climb out to clear the towers. The elevation at the south end of the runway is 1,375′. Turbine site 155 is at 1,882′. So, that’s 507 feet above the south end of the runway. We’re going to have to climb over 500′ to clear these towers by nothing,” Feltman adamantly insisted.
However, from the ground at a typical turbine site to a vertical blade tip is 443′, the FAA documents show.
“There are 4 towers at the end of our runway that are a serious safety hazard even though the towers are beyond the FAA’s requirements. But, the state’s requirements are somewhat different than the FAA’s,” Feltman argued.
After listening to Feltman’s detailed observations, supervisor Tom Farnsworth replied, “We have to go by what the construction permit said that MidAmerican received. The FAA approved it with those 4 towers in there. We don’t really have anything to do with that.”
“The airport or the City should’ve been notified,” Feltman insisted.
“The developers went by what the FAA said,” Farnsworth replied. “They’re not inside the 2-mile circle on the map.”
“Correct. But, the state’s regulations claim that the City or the airport should’ve been notified to discuss the placement of those four towers,” said Feltman. “If we can get those four towers moved, that will make a huge difference in how our airport operates.”
“Primghar’s airport is going to get shut down,” Feltman bluntly insisted. “They have turbine sites only a mile and a half out from either end of the runway.”
Supervisor Jim DeBoom recalled when during the early planning for the wind farm, several proposed turbine locations near the Primghar airport were put on hold until after the FAA examined those sites. The FAA eventually approved them.
“But, you’ve forgotten you have local control. The supervisors have every right to say: you can not build those towers there,” Feltman repeatedly claimed.
With the final public building permit hearing held on Aug. 20, 2013, Friedrichsen said, “We had our hearings to approve the wind turbine sites. This is where they could have been brought up. This was the time to show disapproval.”
“When did you figure all this out?” questioned Farnsworth.
“I figured this all out about 2 months ago,” Feltman replied. “I talked to supervisor Friedrichsen, and after I gathered some more information and then went to the City Council because they own the airport.”
“What good is the FAA, if they approved all these turbine sites and then you’re here saying it isn’t any good?” is my question, said DeBoom. “The FAA has more knowledge of this than what we have.”
“That’s a great question. But it’s local control. The county supervisors can say,” Feltman argued, as he continued to claim that local control takes precedent over the FAA. “I have three sources that say local control rules.”
“But, we’re beyond that!” said DeBoom.
“These four turbines are outside the 2-mile circle on the map and they met all our guidelines. You have to understand us. There are over 200 wind mills out there and they met all the guidelines,” said Farnsworth.
“Except for the local control for the City of Paullina,” Feltman insisted. “We had no knowledge. We should have been specifically notified.”
“We’re probably going to lose our airport because those spray planes won’t be able to use our airport,” said city clerk Fritz
“We can talk to our County Attorney and see what he says. But, I think we’re too far gone,” said DeBoom.
Farnsworth then echoed DeBoom’s thought by saying, “I think we are going to have to talk to Micah and see where we are at.”
“This issue should continue to be looked at to find a way to get rid of those four towers. They should be moved to a different location then that would really help us quite a bit,” concluded Feltman, “because a straight out take off is what you are required to do.”
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