Opponents of a proposed wind turbine project in northern Cass County submitted a petition to leaders with over 1,300 signatures Monday.
It was the second consecutive Cass County Commissioners meeting to draw a crowd that spilled out into the hallway, many of them wearing buttons illustrating their opposition to a project aiming to bring as many as 150 wind turbines to Adams, Bethlehem, Boone and Harrison townships.
Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, an international company headquartered in England with a U.S. headquarters in Colorado, is behind the project.
During the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting, Dave Redweik gave commissioners a petition he said contained 1,308 signatures from Cass County residents and landowners requesting officials change the county’s rules regulating wind turbines.
Among the desired changes are requiring wind turbines to be 2,640 feet, or a half mile, from property lines, Redweik said.
He and others at Monday’s meeting reiterated their qualms with Cass County basing it’s wind rules on White County’s, whose turbines are about half the height of those being proposed locally.
Current Cass County rules call for wind turbines to be the length of a turbine blade from property lines.
Brad Lila, development director for RES, said by phone Monday that the company has yet to choose a turbine model for the project, but maintained the turbines will stand about 600 feet tall and not exceed 700 feet. He added RES’ setbacks for the project will be 1.1 times a turbine’s height from nonparticipating property lines. That height will be measured to the tip of a blade pointing straight up, Lila also said.
Cass County Commissioners President Jim Sailors repeated after Monday’s meeting that there are no plans to revisit the county’s wind ordinance, especially boosting property line setbacks to 2,640 feet, which he said “would essentially stop the project” and would be unfair to landowners in favor of the project.
Cass County regulations also require commercial wind turbines to be 1,000 feet from residential dwellings as well. The ordinance does not put a limit on turbine heights but indicates heights have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ashly Berry cited a 2011 Minnesota Department of Commerce study that reported stricter wind turbine rules in countries across the world. For instance, the study reported rules in Denmark requiring wind turbines to have setbacks of four times their height, decibel limits ranging from 37 to 44 and that homes should not be exposed to more than 10 hours of shadow flicker per year.
Cass County’s wind ordinance limits noise to 60 decibels and does not address shadow flicker.
Leslie Murray said infrasound, or low-frequency sound, caused by wind turbines that opponents have attributed to health issues should also be addressed in local regulations. She added nonparticipating landowners should be able to request all wind turbine sound measurements at the cost of the developer.
“Ignoring this information is dangerous for our citizens, it’s dangerous for our community and if there’s no clear scientific consensus about the safety, I think the county must err on the side of caution and that we need stricter regulations on sound limits and we need significant setbacks to prevent this type of problem in the future,” Murray said.
Tia Justice, a storm chaser, raised concerns over effects tornadoes would have on the turbines while Wayne Haselby questioned how turbines’ vibrations would affect natural gas underground.
Mark Babb was the meeting’s only attendee to express being in favor of the project, adding he’s explored getting a wind turbine on his property in the past.
Linda Franklin said commissioners should recuse themselves from being involved in the project if they or any of their relatives stand to benefit from it.
Sailors said after the meeting that he does not own land in the proposed project area but that he may have a distant cousin who does.
Cass County Commissioner Ralph Anderson said he does not own land in the proposed area either and that none of his relatives do to his knowledge.
Cass County Commissioner Jeff LeDonne said he too does not own any property where wind turbines are being considered, nor do any of his relatives.
Attendees repeated calls for a public meeting where officials and project stakeholders can educate the public on their points of view and share information on the projected financial impact.
Sailors said after the meeting that confidentiality has to be maintained while negotiations continue between RES and the county’s hired legal counsel. Once talks conclude, more information will be able to be shared, he added.
Those negotiations include addressing how roads will be kept up as RES transports the project’s heavy equipment, Sailors said.
Lila said in his phone interview that there will also be a plan with funds set aside to ensure the turbines can be safely decommissioned.
He added the project will employ 30 to 50 full-time positions.
“We will likely pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes that will benefit the local schools, the local communities,” Lila said. “We will improve infrastructure … We will pay millions and millions of dollars to landowners in lease agreements.”
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