Matagorda County Commissioners will readdress an ordinance on a reinvestment zone for Peyton Creek Wind Farm at a later meeting after tabling the issue Monday.
Representatives from the company E.ON Climate and Renewables, proposing the wind farm, said at a commissioners meeting two weeks ago that there wasn’t much controversy over their plans to build a 50-acre windmill farm between Bay City and Wadsworth.
That certainly didn’t seem to be the case at Monday morning’s public hearing because it was standing room only as the courthouse room was filled with people concerning the windmill farm.
“We have some specific concerns with the location of this wind farm,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Gretchen Nareff said. “We generally try to discourage companies from building in this area. The iconic endangered species of Texas, the whooping crane, have barely 450 individuals left in this population.”
E.ON announced plans for a 150-mega watt wind farm on the south side of the county more than a year ago that will contain about 50 turbines. Specifics are still pending on the model and size of turbines that will be selected after wind studies will be completed by the end of the year, E.ON Wind Development manager Nathan Yates said.
Yates also stated that biological impact studies would be completed by that time as to what the affect would be on birds in the area, a fear to the community known for its bird watching.
“We wanted you to know that we are highly concerned with how these windmills will affect birding and tourism in the area,” Bay City Tourism manager Heidi Martinez said at Monday’s public hearing next to Bay City Public Information officer Marissa Valentine. “We are a huge birding destination… something we are very proud of. Because of our central location for migratory birds, we have concerns about the specific location these windmills are to be placed.”
Senior development manager with E.ON Richard Saunders was on hand to answer questions.
“We follow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife guidelines very strictly. One of the things we do is that we don’t go for ‘take permits.’ Take permit basically says you think you’re going to kill birds,” Saunders said. “Our impression is if we think that is true, we’re going to move on. We’ve been doing monitoring of all birds for the last two years every single month, so we build a database of what the potential environmental impacts could be.”
Christian Ryan, representing south Texas agriculture aviators in the area, also brought up about economic impact on the area and if the 10 permanent jobs that it’s expected to bring will be done by people from Matagorda County.
“The affect it will have on farming is pretty dramatic. There are times, especially in rice, these planes are needed. It will only be accessible by helicopter, which will cost four times as much,” Ryan said. “They haven’t reached out to us all to see how it would affect us.”
Again, Saunders responded.
“The comptrollers’ office just came out with two studies that shows the net benefit to Matagorda County and the school districts and is about $19.4 million from this project,” Saunders said. “Every single one of the projects has crop dusters. It hasn’t stopped crop dusting, but it will increase the cost of it. There is a slight increase. …here we have committed to getting 10 to 12 long-term jobs.”
Saunders added most of the the windmill projects have hired locals in those jobs because it cost almost a quarter of a million to train someone to do them, and it “wouldn’t be economically viable” if they had low turn-around rate in those positions.
The question on wind “turbine syndrome” was brought up, referring to the ill effects that have been ascribed to the proximity of wind turbines such as vertigo, headaches, cancer and even death.
Saunders offered literature on the 23 studies of scientific literature published on wind turbines and health that have consistently found no reason to believe that wind turbines are harmful to health.
E.on’s closest wind farm to Matagorda County would be Papalote Creek Wind Farm located in San Patricio County, between Taft and Sinton, containing 196 wind turbines that were completed in 2010. Local responses varied in San Patricio, along with some of the same issues that have been raised in Matagorda County. Taxing entities and property owners who benefited directly from the property leases were generally in favor of the wind farms, whereas those indirectly affected by the negative aspects of the farms opposed them.
“Do y’all have any information as far as the number of whooping cranes that have possibly been injured or killed down in the San Patricio area,” Pollard said. “That’s the home of the whooping crane.”
“We don’t know any that have hit by turbines,” Nareff said. “But generally the juveniles are coming into contact with the transmission lines. But as the population is increasing, and they are expanding out… we expect they will be in this area.”
Pollard later moved to table the issue for a later meeting.
“I want to clarify, I’m not going against the wind mills,” Pollard said. “My major concern right now is that it borders the eastern border of the Colorado River and we have some existing industrial plants already located in that area. …and the Colorado River is a major attraction for industrial sites. Once an abatement is negotiated for one company in that reinvestment zone, we’re locked into that same abatement terms and amounts for any future industrial investment we attract, and that concerns me.”
County Judge Nate McDonald and Pct 4 Commissioner Charles Frick were absent from the meeting.
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