WATERLOO – The Black Hawk County Planning and Zoning Commission has endorsed a controversial wind energy project in farm fields southeast of Hudson.
Commission members voted 4-2 Tuesday after nearly four hours of debate to recommend approving the 70-megawatt, 35-turbine Washburn Wind Energy project being developed by DeSoto-based RPM Access.
The county Board of Adjustment is expected to hold another hearing Tuesday and cast a final vote on the measure.
The Waterloo council chambers were packed beyond capacity for the public hearing. Opponents, who vastly outnumbered supporters at the hearing, shouted their disapproval at commission members after the 11 p.m. final vote.
Commissioners Eric Sage, Kamyar Enshayan, Gary Wurtz and Renata Sack endorsed the special permit, while Peter Beck and Deb Nagle voted against it. Marlene Rottinghaus declined to vote.
Most of those opposed to the project live in and around the planned 492-foot-tall turbines and voiced concerns about possible human and animal health impacts, noise, shadow flicker, wireless communication issues, lost property values and taking 22 acres of prime agricultural land out of production.
“We moved to the country to enjoy the views, the peace and quiet, and live in a healthy environment,” said Kevin Youngblut. “These turbines will take all that away from us.”
“The house that I own will be subject to shadow flicker 178 days of the year,” added Aaron Martin. “I know that’s a maximum, but it’s a hard pill to swallow.”
Other residents talked about the flashing lights and flicker causing seizures for epileptic family members or themselves. And others suggested the project will make it impossible for them to sell their homes at a fair price.
Felix Friedman, of RPM Access, said the company has taken steps to reduce the impacts on surrounding property owners and called the claims of human health impacts and property value loss to be without scientific merit.
“Human health impacts are positive from wind,” he said. “When you reduce air pollution (from coal plants) you improve human health.”
Other supporters included environmentalists, who said it was important to generate more clean energy to reduce climate change, and union workers, who said the jobs created by the project would benefit the local economy.
Angie Meinhart, a family farmer in the area who wants turbines, also spoke in support.
“I believe wind energy is important in Iowa,” she said. “It should stay in Iowa. It will benefit Hawkeye Tech. It will benefit the school districts. It will benefit Black Hawk County as well as the farmers who farm the land.”
Wurtz said he voted in favor of the special permit because RPM Access had met all of the requirements of the county’s zoning ordinance as adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
Enshayan and Sack said they supported the project based on environmental issues.
“Climate change will wipe all of us out, and we will not have any land to argue about anymore,” Sack said. “We need to look at the large, large picture in the world, not only in Iowa but everywhere.”
Beck, who chairs the commission, spoke at length about how the primary purpose of the county zoning ordinance was to protect prime agricultural land from being taken out of production. Rejecting that principle for the wind farm would set a precedent to damage future zoning issues.
“There are other places more suited than prime agricultural farm ground,” Beck said.
But Sage said there’s no place in Black Hawk County that would allow a large wind farm without touching good farm land. He said the question for him was whether to approve more power that will drive industrial growth in the county.
“In order to have growth you need to have access to power,” he said. “For this area to grow in industrial ways … do we want to grow? Do we want Google to put in a facility here? Do you want somebody to come in and build something industrially? Then you need more power.”
The turbines would generally be located in an area bounded by Griffith Road on the north, Tama Road to the south, Holmes Road on the west, and Hammond Avenue on the east.
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