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Black Hawk County gets wind farm application

WATERLOO – A formal application has been submitted for a proposed 35-turbine wind farm in southern Black Hawk County.

Washburn Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of DeSoto-based RMP Access, filed a request Tuesday with county zoning officials seeking a special permit to operate the 70-megawatt wind energy generation project.

The plans already have generated vocal opposition from Cedar Valley Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, a group of land owners in the area concerned about the impact the turbines will have on their property values.

But WWE has reportedly secured necessary land leases from property owners for tower sites, transmission lines and an electrical substation. Local environmental activists also have mailed letters of support for the project.

“As the first utility-scale wind farm in the county, WWE would benefit the entire Black Hawk County community, provide another form of renewable energy in this area and generate positive impacts for the environment,” said project developer Kevin Lehs.

Lehs mailed information packets Thursday to property owners in and around the project.

He is still meeting with 33 neighboring property owners within half a mile of a turbine who would be eligible for some monetary compensation.

The county Planning and Zoning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the request April 17. The board would make a recommendation to the Board of Adjustment, which is scheduled to meet April 24 and ultimately decide whether to issue the required special permit.

WWE is seeking permission for 39 tower locations in a 16-square-mile area around Eagle Center, generally bounded by Griffith Road on the north, Tama Road to the south, Holmes Road on the west, and Iowa Highway 21 on the east.

The company seeks approval for 39 turbine locations in case some sites don’t work out, but the project would be limited to 35 turbines. Those Vesta turbines would be 312 feet tall at the hub and 492 feet at the highest point of a blade.

A new electrical substation would be constructed near the intersection of Washburn Road and Ansborough Avenue. Underground power lines would connect it to the turbine field farther south.

Lehs said the project also will include an aircraft detection lighting system so the flashing red lights common to most of the state’s wind generation projects won’t be in use full time.

“There will not be flashing lights at night unless there’s an aircraft near the project,” he said.

WWE’s application indicates the company believes it has complied with all of the county zoning requirements, including setbacks from property lines and buildings. County zoning staff were still working to review the large amount of documents required for the zoning request.

Final Federal Aviation Administration approvals and bonds to decommission the towers would be required before a building permit would be issued.

Lehs said the company has strong interest both from utilities interested in building the project and from energy buyers should WWE build and operate the wind farm itself.

County officials have already been hearing from property owners concerned about whether the turbines would hurt their property values, take agricultural land out of production, or hurt their quality of life with noise or shadow flicker from spinning blades.

“To my grandfather and my father, it would be against nature and against God to dig up this soil and plant a bunch of industrial electrical generators,” Kelvin Chvojka, whose family farms in the area, said in an email to zoning board members.

“If this wind turbine issue goes through, my family will seriously consider selling the farm we have owned for almost 100 years,” he added. “I had planned on retiring here, but if my view is destroyed by a field of turbines, if I have to listen to those turbines, if I have to deal with those red lights when before all I had were stars, it will no longer be worth it.”