November 25, 2015

Proposed wind farm raises concerns

By Anesa McGregor | Emmetsburg News | November 24, 2015 |

A proposed wind farm in Palo Alto County was a main concern during the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, November 17. Several local area farmers as well as representatives from Steier Ag Aviation were on hand to discuss concerns over how a wind farm could potentially affect area farmers.

“I asked Steier Ag Aviation of Whittemore to come to the meeting today because I am concerned how wind turbines affect spraying of fields especially if one farmer does not sign an easement for a wind turbine but his neighbor does,” Supervisor Chair Craig Merrill said. “Mike and others are here to voice concerns and suggestions regarding wind turbines.”

“When were you guys made aware of this proposed project?” landowner Mike Brown asked.

“Ed bought it up at a meeting,” Merrill answered.

“A lady who was proposing the wind mill came to sign me up,” Supervisor Ed Noonan said.

“My next question is, does any building project or whatever, can they just come into our county and start disseminating information or do they need to check with someone first?” Brown asked.

” I had contact from a Jeff Jackson from RES Americas. He asked what our zoning regulations were,” Zoning Officer Joe Neary said.

“What date was that?” Supervisor Linus Solberg asked.

“It was July 31. I asked Jeff Jackson,” Noonan said.

“So when did you bring that up at a meeting?” Merrill asked.

“Probably a couple months after that. Probably September or October, something like that,” Noon responded.

“That time frame right there gives me cause for concern,” Brown said. “I would think you guys should be notified pretty quickly. I don’t know how far this thing is in its inception but I feel it should probably be stopped until we as a county put some rules and regulations together. Our zoning laws apparently aren’t worth a hoot. There needs to be some protection for landowners, property owners.”

“I have a question for Peter on that. If they are signing easements right now and we don’t have the zoning approved yet, do they have to live by it?” Noonan asked.

“It’s the construction that kicks under our ordinance,” Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart said.

“So it doesn’t matter if they’ve signed up already?” Noon asked.

“I don’t think so,” Hart replied.

“If you drive down by Pomeroy or any place that has wind mills, it isn’t so much the wind mills that bother me. I’m not here to say I’m against it or for it, but it’s the stuff that comes afterwards, the transmission lines, the substations. It’s a hob glob,” Brown stated. ” The lines don’t go on the roadside, they go right through the middle of properties. The substations are out in the middle. This is something that these landowners need to know about in advance.”

“Before these things are built, they need to have a map out and say this is where we are going to build everything before people sign, because they are giving up their land rights by signing the initial agreement. They have no say after it.”

“You know that you may not get a wind mill even if you sign but if your neighbor gets a wind mill, they can build a road through your property to get to the wind mill. Most people don’t want a road through their property if they don’t get a wind mill,” Noonan said.

“We are in the process of doing what you just suggested, it just taking some time. The Supervisors, Peter, and myself have taken a look at ordinances from other counties and Jeff Jackson has had some input in developing an ordinance for Palo Alto County. When we get a rough draft together we will take it to Planning and Zoning and that is when we are going to invite everyone in,” Neary said.

” The county has done a fantastic job with the hog buildings and this thing is really very similar to that. We got behind the eight ball and the county did a great job with the good neighbor policy. This is a chance for us to have a good neighbor policy and put some teeth into it,” Brown commented.

“I think we actually have the power for the setbacks on these,” Noonan said.

“There’s no agricultural exemption. Iowa recognizes that agriculture is very, very important and when you have a confinement building to me that’s industry, but the legislature calls that agriculture, so we can’t do a whole lot with it because it is preempted and dealt with in Des Moines. This is not agriculture. It does not have that same exemption,” Hart noted.

“Do you have any thoughts on what the setback should be?” Noonan Asked.

“I would like to see a half mile because that is what 80 acres is but I don’t know if it could be done,” Brown replied.

“As far as we are concerned with setbacks like you are talking about, we will not work inside a farm regardless of if that turbine is a mile from your property but sits in the middle of the farm, we are not going to go in there,” Tony Meyer of Steier Ag Aviation said.

“If it’s a half section farm, you won’t go in there?” Noonan asked.

“Right, because what happens is, the turbines themselves are the easy part to avoid. It’s the met towers and all the other little stuff they put inside of these farms. You’re focused on the turbine at 150 160 miles per hour and all of a sudden here’s this 198 foot met tower that was constructed inside that farm,” Tony Meyer said.

“What’s the met tower for?” Noonan asked.

“It’s how they read wind speeds. Basically, it collects data for the farm,” Tony Meyer replied.

“It takes the local producer out of how he manages his farm. It changes how you manage your property,” Denny Meyer of Steier Ag Aviation said. You may or may not get an operator to come in, but our company policy is to stay out. There are too many risks. You have to stay 450 feet above the blades and most of the structures and they’re only going to get bigger. So we cam up with our company policy, we will work perpendicular to them and we will get as close to them as we can but we will not work inside a farm.”

“There are many reasons for not working inside a farm. The main reason is the Federal Aviation Association deems it reckless to work in them, so if we would hit one, we would be liable because the FAA says don’t do that,” Tony Meyer said.

“Where do we go from here?” Merrill asked.

“We need to have a public informational meeting with everyone there, so that everyone can give their opinions and side,” Solberg said. “And when they come in Joe, we need to know right a way. The supervisors need to know when something like this occurs and not wait two or three months so we can start planning before it’s already done.”

“We need to have a smaller informal meeting with everyone first and then have the informational meeting,” Noonan suggested.

“So let’s have an informal meeting next week with Planning and Zoning, Steier Ag Aviation, and local property owners at 10:30 am on November 24th during the regular Supervisors meeting,” Merrill said. “Then we will have a larger, formal meeting with everyone and we will have a better idea of zoning.”

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