The decision to approve or deny a wind farm in Davison County was blown back to February.
At Tuesday’s Davison County Commission meeting, the five commissioners unanimously decided to table the vote for a 9- to 11-turbine wind farm in Beulah Township after hearing concerns from several county residents about the project.
About 25 people attended the three-hour meeting. The meeting’s main discussion was the wind farm, which would occupy a 3-mile by 1-mile stretch of Brad and Peggy Greenway’s land. Several supporters and opponents spoke at the meeting, but the commissioners decided to delay the project so residents could educate themselves on the impact of a wind farm near their property.
No member of the five-person commission expressed their full support or opposition of the project, but Commissioners Denny Kiner and John Claggett led the charge in delaying the consideration of the $40 million project.
“I don’t feel comfortable proceeding with a yes or no vote at this time based on what little knowledge that we do have and based on the fact that we don’t have an ordinance written,” Kiner said.
Last week, Deputy Planning and Zoning Administrator Mark Jenniges told The Daily Republic that the county had one ordinance currently in effect, which states a turbine built on one landowner’s property must be placed where it could not fall onto adjacent properties. But Jeff Bathke, also of the Planning and Zoning office, said the county is working on an ordinance to establish a 1,000-foot setback.
Corey Juhl, Vice President of Juhl Energy’s project development, attended the meeting to answer questions from a handful of opponents who decided to speak before the commission. Juhl was disappointed and surprised by Tuesday’s outcome, but respected the commission’s decision to table the vote until the Feb. 9 Board of Adjustment meeting.
“I feel comfortable if they want to dive in for two more months and learn more about the process and what we’ve laid out, no problem, because there’s nothing for us to really hide,” Juhl said.
While Juhl has nothing to hide and said many of the questions were answered in previous Planning Commission meetings, some residents remain concerned about the project’s location, about 10 miles west of Mitchell.
Gene Stehly, who lives within a mile of the proposed wind farm, still has concerns regarding noise and setbacks. He urged the commission to give county residents time to educate themselves on the impact the installation of wind towers has on a community to allow for an informed decision.
“You’ll never get me to agree those things belong, but for heaven’s sake, let’s not move ahead and get the cart before the horse,” Stehly said.
Like Stehly, some of the commissioners were under the impression Juhl Energy would recommend project approval next August.
In August of 2015, the commission approved a meteorological tower to measure wind speed and direction for a year,which Juhl said is used to show preliminary results to potential financial backers. But Claggett and other concerned residents in the audience expected Juhl Energy would take the entire year to decide whether to move forward with the project.
With Juhl Energy’s return to the commission to seek approval four months later, Claggett expressed concern about the rapid scheduling.
“Normally I like to fast-track when I can, but when you’re setting precedents, I think it’s good to walk gingerly,” Claggett said.
But the project has its share of supporters, all named Greenway.
Brad, Doug and Tom Greenway all stood before the commission in support of the project. Brad Greenway said he spoke with neighbors within a mile of the property to discuss any potential concerns about the project he called an opportunity for the county. Tom Greenway, who has lived in Beulah Township for more than 80 years, likened the project to the initially unpopular tree belts installed decades ago.
“People don’t realize if you don’t make a decision when the time is right, you lose a lot of the opportunity that we’ve got,” Tom Greenway said.
The project also had support from Doug Greenway, who said the project will have minimal agricultural impact. Doug Greenway reminded commissioners that the project could be moved to a nearby county if not approved in Davison and hoped they had the foresight to approve the project.
“I hate to think that we’re not progressive enough to say, ‘Now’s the time for wind in Davison County,” Doug Greenway said.
In support of the Greenways, Juhl also mentioned potential financial benefits the project could have in the county. Juhl said the 25-year projected lifespan of the wind farm could generate $2.8 million to $3 million in taxes, two-thirds of which would return to locals governments.
Juhl estimated between $60,000 and $80,000 would be distributed within the county annually, with $30,000 going to the Mount Vernon and Mitchell school districts, $25,000 returning to Davison County and $10,000 headed toward Beulah Township.
Even with these numbers at hand, the commission decided to be diligent and allow residents time to learn more about the project.
“I’m just kind of baffled by that, that the folks that are affected the most are the one’s who know the least about the project,” Kiner said about the lack of communication between the developers and neighbors.
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