WATERLOO – Opponents of a proposed wind farm near Hudson contend Black Hawk County exceeded its authority by granting permits for the 35 turbines.
Farmer Harold Youngblut sued the county Board of Adjustment after board members voted 3-2 April 24 to grant special permits for the planned Washburn Wind Energy project on farm land primarily in Eagle Township.
His attorney, John Holmes, was in court Tuesday asking District Court Judge George Stigler to find that Iowa law prevents the county from regulating what happens on land historically used for farming purposes.
“If anybody takes the time to drive the roads in those townships all you see is corn and soybeans everywhere you look,” Holmes said.
Attorney Brent Hinders, who represents the Board of Adjustment, said Holmes was incorrectly interpreting state law.
Hinders agreed the law prevents the county from telling property owners how to use agricultural land. But he said the county does have the right to regulate ag land when the owner chooses to use it for non-farming purposes like wind turbines or shopping malls.
“If what you’re putting on that land isn’t agricultural, (the county) can regulate you,” he said.
Black Hawk County requires large wind towers to obtain special permits through the Board of Adjustment after meeting a number of requirements.
RMP Access, based in DeSoto, won approval for the permits despite heavy opposition from neighboring property owners who packed the meeting room for a five-hour public hearing.
Holmes contends the hearing and vote was moot because the correct way to handle the request would have been through a rezoning application to the elected Board of Supervisors.
“(The Board of Adjustment) have no power to grant a special exemption on land that is exempt from zoning,” he said. “They should have just gone home.”
Hinders said the zoning ordinance was appropriate in allowing the Board of Adjustment to determine special use permits for wind turbines.
If Stigler finds the county Board of Adjustment was legally entitled to determine special permits for wind farms, the case would continue to a court review of whether the Board of Adjustment acted correctly based on the evidence it received during the April 24 hearing itself.
The Washburn Wind Energy project is the first wind farm to win approval under the county’s zoning ordinance. The $120 million, 70-megawatt project drew objections from nearby homeowners concerned about the impact on their property values, health and quality of life.
Supporters of the project said it would generate clean energy, provide a boost the county’s property tax base and give farmers hosting the turbines new revenue to keep their farms viable.
RPM Access has not yet started construction.
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