Lincoln County’s Commission brought its residents one step closer to what could become the state’s largest industrial wind farm on Tuesday with the approval of five test towers.
Commission Chair Jim Schmidt cautioned both the overflow crowd of concerned landowners and the group of investors and backers of Dakota Power Community Wind that the project is still years from completion and “nowhere near a done deal.”
The company followed the rules outlined in the county’s zoning ordinance and is entitled to its permits, Schmidt said, but permanent turbines will open up a wider debate about the character and quality of life in the remaining rural pockets of South Dakota’s third-largest and fastest-growing county.
“I have a lot of questions, and I think we all have a lot of questions,” Schmidt said at the conclusion of the two-hour public input session.
The test towers will gather data on wind power capacity in southern Lincoln County in a footprint around Beresford, Hudson and Centerville.
The data will help sell investors on the project, which hopes to connect up to 500 wind turbines to the proposed Rock Island Clean Line.
The county zoning board approved temporary permits for the test towers in May, but landowners appealed that decision, setting up Tuesday’s special meeting in Canton.
Landowners told commissioners that they worried about property values dropping over fear of wind turbines, regardless of whether the test towers are labeled as temporary.
Winnie Peterson, chair of the anti-Dakota Power nonprofit group We-Care SD, told commissioners that the specter of a large-scale wind farm is enough to drive buyers out of the marketplace all across the U.S.
Buyers are walking away already, she said.
Peterson also cited the county’s growth plan, which says zoning of towers ought to be compatible with existing land uses.
“We’re talking about an agriculture district,” Peterson said. “We do not see how these (met towers) fit into an agriculture district. They don’t grow. I hope they don’t grow.”
Many of the 15 landowners who spoke against the met towers spoke of the loss of the rural character of the landscape. Vance Myrabo talked about his acreage as “our little slice of heaven on Earth … with breathtaking panoramic views.”
Jennifer Fischer and Mike Peterson talked about the time and money put into their properties and their concerns about losing the rural views they worked for and the real estate investments they had made to enjoy them.
Dylan Paulson and Sue Sommervold worried that young people wouldn’t want to return to a county with wind power.
Jean Riley told commissioners that opponents always outnumber supporters at public meetings on wind power, so “your decision ought to be an easy one.”
The wind advocates countered that the worries about property values are overblown. Board member Rob Johnson pointed to a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling last month which said that state agency rules on wind farm siting didn’t require the state to issue a report on property values.
The affect of turbines on property values is inconclusive, a divided court ruled, so the rulemaking agency needn’t issue a report on the wind rules’ potential to cause “direct” or “substantial” effect on housing.
Johnson also noted that one test tower has been up for more than a year now.
“Have we seen any actual evidence of property values going down?” he asked.
Nick Sershen, who’s company Val-Ad Service Corp. is backing the project, told the commission that wind turbines are included in the county’s growth plan.
“You have to look at both sides of that: The neighbor and the person who’s trying to make a living off their land,” Sershen said.
Commissioner Dale Long sided with the test tower permits, because the company met the zoning requirements and because he doubted the impact a temporary tower would have on property values.
“I’ve got a 700-foot radio tower sitting on my dad’s place,” Long said. “In 15 years, the property values around there have tripled – tripled – and that’s not going away.”
Mike Poppens sided with Long, as did Schmidt, in voting against the property owners’ appeal of the permits. Commissioner Dave Gillespie recused himself, as he’d signed on for options with Dakota Power Community Wind.
Commissioner Dan King voted against the test towers, siding with the landowners who said the fear of a wind farm created by test towers was enough to impact property values.
“If I put up a string line on my property, all my neighbors know I’m doing something,” King said.
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