Codington County Commission-ers will vote shortly on a wind energy ordinance that will transform the landscape north and east of Watertown.
Before they vote, they should think hard about who they represent, the voters who are their neighbors, or the wind industry representatives who entice land owners to give up property rights in anticipation of profits.
Elected officials are told millions of dollars in property tax will come their way. Strapped with tight budgets they are enticed by the Sirens’ song.
Left in the cold are non-participating landowners who worry about 500-feet-high slowly, churning wind towers damaging their property values.
Earlier this week, the Codington County Planning Commission heard from their neighbors that they are very concerned how new wind towers will affect their lifestyle. According to some in attendance, a majority were opposed to ordinances that now will go county commissioners.
Public servants are in a tough spot. They must balance the rural lifestyle with industrial demands of wind.
Those living in the country understand that cows, sheep or hogs likely will be their neighbors. We know combines will run through nearby fields, occasionally spreading dust and insects.
But wind towers are not agriculture. They are industrial development.
These giant towers are estimated to last at least 30 years. The swirl of those gigantic blades that we see being hauled down the interstate generates power and much more. They create shadows that flicker through people’s homes.
They also change the rural view. They make noise.
Representatives of wind companies stealthily move into a community, working one landowner at a time. Complicated multi-page easements are offered with the possibility of future rewards.
Many people are unaware how much of their property rights they are giving away. Easements I have read do not guarantee that a tower will be built on a property under contract. But people sign, believing cash will hit their bank account.
Maps given to me show that broad swaths of northeastern Codington County, northwestern Deuel and western Grant County are being targeted by “Big Wind” as the industry is called. Clark and Day Counties also are slated for projects.
Farther west, Hughes County out towards Pierre is struggling with the issue.
Given the landscape transformation at hand, I wonder why so many landowners are leaving planning meetings frustrated that their local representatives seem to be on Big Wind’s side.
Most likely it is because the wind industry has a practiced, effective way of persuading landowners and elected officials this is a good deal.
Certainly, there will be cash payments to land owners, although not as much as most are told. There will be property tax benefits, but these may be offset by devaluations as people move away or choose not to build in areas surrounded by wind towers.
If wind is good, clean energy, one wonders why we must create ordinances regulating noise levels at property lines. These, like so many rules, largely are unenforceable.
Once a gigantic wind turbine is built, it is unlikely county officials will shut it down because it creates more noise than expected. As generally is the case, the nearby land owner will bear the expense of proving a turbine violates the rules.
It is my guess the proposed ordinance will sail through the Codington County Commission, in spite of what appears to be significant opposition.
A similar story played out in Deuel County where residents also feel defeated by their elected officials. Grant County and Clark County have been respectful of their voters and Day County’s proposed wind farm still faces hurdles.
As Codington County Commissioners get ready to vote, they should state their willingness to have a wind tower built a short distance from their homes. Are they willing to have the sound of a dishwasher running 24 hours a day in the background?
Are they willing to have shadows flickering through their homes?
And are they willing to look out their windows every day for the next 30 years to see wind mills?
Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in state and local affairs.
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