They begin the year with more questions than answers.
The people at the center of the fight over possible health impacts of eight industrial wind turbines in southern Brown County say a late 2015 decision by the county’s health director raised as many questions as it answered. Director Chua Xiong found that there was not sufficient evidence to conclusively say the turbines in the Shirley Wind farm were causing illnesses – but nor did she rule out a possible connection.
Area residents, a majority of the county Board of Health, and a number of lawmakers clearly were hoping that Xiong would find a connection between some of the symptoms being suffered and the operation of the wind farm. Duke Energy Renewables, which operates the site and more than 1,000 turbines around the U.S., has said repeatedly that sounds produced by the turbines cannot be linked to health problems.
Xiong is slated to address the county’s Human Services Committee on Jan 27. Chairman Patrick Evans said lawmakers want her to explain the rationale behind her decision.
Here are some of the other questions likely to emerge in the coming days, weeks and months. They’ll begin Wednesday, when the County Board considers Executive Troy Streckenbach’s appointment of retired Wisconsin DNR engineer James Crawford of New Denmark to the Board of Health.
Q: Will the residents of the affected area get a representative on the Board of Health?
There has long been a push to appoint someone from the town of Glenmore to the board. Current chairman Dr. Jay Tibbetts, said then-Chair Audrey Murphy last fall asked Supervisor Bill Clancy, who represents the affected area, to suggest a nominee. Tibbetts said the name of a person – a retired nurse – was forwarded up the chain, but is not the name that Streckenbach put forth to the Board this week.
“The question Bill Clancy has to be asking,” Tibbetts said, “is ‘what happened to my nominee?'”
Streckenbach said the woman did not apply. He said Crawford would bring needed perspective to the board because he lives in a rural area.
Q: Will lawmakers OK the Crawford appointment?
Supervisor Patrick Evans said Crawford’s credentials would make him a fine appointee – for the NEW Water Authority. But he said he might ask his fellow lawmakers to block or delay his nomination until he knows more about Clancy’s candidate.
“I know Mr. Crawford from his days with the DNR, and he’s a very nice guy and very intelligent,” Evans said. “But this decision isn’t about Mr. Crawford.”
Several people interviewed Tuesday said they believe Crawford is “pro-wind.” Streckenbach, though, said his nominee is “a neutral party willing to be open-minded about the issue.” Crawford could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon; the telephone number on his resume provided by the county is not in service.
Chad Weininger, Streckenbach’s administration director, said Crawford’s potential position on wind energy wouldn’t matter because “the board doesn’t have the authority – only the director does” to rule on potential health impacts.
Q. What happens to the relationship between Xiong and the Board of Health?
Several board members, particularly Tibbetts, have been critical of Xiong’s handling of the wind decision.
They noted that the executive has submitted Crawford’s name for appointment, but not that of current board member Harold Pfotenhauer, whose term is expiring. It’s not required, the names of sitting board members are usually submitted for reappointment unless the member wants to step down.
Asked about that on Tuesday night, Streckenbach said he would contact Pfotenhauer and would likely offer reappointment.