The Saline County Commissioners held a public hearing for the Milligan 1 wind turbine project during their meeting on Oct. 4. About 40 residents attended, both in support and against the 300MW wind farm being developed by Aksamit Energy Development.
The commissioners had previously approved the Milligan 3 project, a 400MW wind farm that is still in development by AED.
AED Vice President Jason Edwards was at the meeting to take questions from the public. He told the commissioners that the project will cover 25,000 acres and provide the county with tax credits and tax income, and will share its profits with the landowners. All wind turbines will be built according to regulations, he told the commissioners. He also said that construction is expected to begin and end in the summer of 2017.
Kenneth Kresha came in support of the wind farm.
“For the last 40 years, we’ve been talking about energy independence,” he told the crowd, and argued that the project was a step toward making America less dependent on foreign oil. He said the project would be a financial benefit for the people of Saline County.
He added that he has a nephew near King City, Missouri, who raises cattle near a wind turbine, who doesn’t consider it a particular nuisance.
“I’d talk to him about it, and he’d yawn,” Kresha said. “It’s not a big deal.”
He also pointed out that, in Nebraska, people have protested against every kind of energy except wind.
Scott Sobotka of the Lower Big Blue Natural Resource District said that one recreational area will be affected by the project. He told the commissioners that the NRD has not yet asked for a setback for the area, and asked that information about the project be given to the NRD.
Reese Sukovaty presented concerns about the project after reviewing the county regulations on energy. Wind turbines, he told the commissioners, have gotten taller since the regulations were made, and he was concerned that they were building 90 wind turbines, the equivalent of 60-story skyscrapers, in rural Saline County. He was also concerned that the regulations did not take into account that, should a wind turbine start falling apart, pieces of the turbine could end up going further than the setback.
He was also concerned that local fire departments would be unable to deal with a wind turbine catching fire.
“Is that something that we’ll need to have external fire departments come in for?” he asked.
Edwards said that AED would provide fire training to the local fire departments at the company’s expense.
Sukovaty was also concerned that, if AED were to go bankrupt, the landowners would be left to deal with the turbines, and suggested that the company should either have funds or an insurance policy set to deal with the situation.
“I just think we have some loopholes in our current [regulations] and I think we should look at them before we move forward,” he said.
Darrel Hayek of the Saline County Wind Association asked what land would be affected by the project, since many landowners who have not signed with the project have received letters concerning it. He was told that the letters have been sent not just to the landowners who have signed agreements, but also to landowners with land adjacent to the project.
David Vavra, chairman of Saline County Wind Association, asked about the map provided by AED, which showed the land affected by the project. He wanted it on the record, he said, that the land marked pink was where the conditional use permit was allotted.
Vavra was also concerned that the special permits were signed by three different people for AED and said it was unclear if they all represent the company. He deferred to county attorney Tad Eickman on the validity of it.
Eickman said that, after reviewing the situation, the commissioners could go ahead with the project.
Vavra added that the wind farm has been in the study stage for two years, which should normally only take six months to a year to complete. He also added that the company will not know what they need for their substation until the study is finished, which Vavra said is an issue.
“They do not understand the process or what they’re talking about,” he told the commissioners.
He was also concerned with why the county was granting the permit so long before construction would even begin.
“Why are you granting a conditional use permit to a project that will not start for 18 months?” he asked.
James Jirsa argued that the turbines would devalue the land and drive residents away. He also argued that the turbines themselves are a health risk, saying that “there’s articles upon articles on the internet” depicting the dangers of living near the wind towers. He added that a family has already moved away from the Milligan 3 wind farm, and said that a project that drives people away is an issue that needs to be discussed. He said that Saline County needs to develop regulations similar to California’s.
Commissioner Willis Luedke said that Saline County’s wind energy regulations are average compared to the rest of the state, and pointed out that changing those regulations cannot happen over night.
“I want you to understand that developing rules and regulations takes a long time,” he said, pointing out that the county took three years and thousands of dollars to develop the regulations it has now.
The commissioners closed the hearing and approved the special use permit on a 3-0 vote with Stephanie Krivohlavek and Marvin Kohout abstaining.
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