FAIRBANK – Joyce Kerns noticed a familiar sound when the large industrial wind turbine built near her backyard was shut down in July.
“It was so nice to hear the birds chirping again,” she said.
Kerns and many of her neighbors are celebrating this week as a group of wind energy companies are in the process of dismantling three 450-foot towers built in 2015 just east of the Fairbank city limits.
“I’m thrilled,” Kerns said. “The constant whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound they make is nonstop … and the shadow effect was like I was back in the ’70s with the disco strobe light.
“I couldn’t sit outside in the evening,” she added. “Until you live near one, you don’t know what it’s like.”
The courts found the project was built in violation of Fayette County zoning laws and ordered the blades to stop spinning last July and to be removed by Dec. 9. The first tower was taken down last week while the second is set for removal this week.
“It’s a nuisance for sure,” said Cheyney Hershey, the nearest homeowner to the third tower set for removal. “It was just constant noise. You can hear it in the house.”
Hershey said there were times he had to turn up the TV just to hear it over the thumping blades, assuming he was able to watch a show at all.
“It blocked our TV signal,” he said. “You’d lose sound and lose the picture.”
Mason Wind, Dante Wind 6, Galileo Wind 1 and Venus Wind 4 erected the turbines three years ago after convincing Fayette county zoning officials that special permits or zoning action were not required for “energy transmission” equipment.
Fairbank City Council members, concerned the towers would be detrimental to the town’s growth, filed a lawsuit against the project and county. The city has spent about $20,000 on attorneys as the legal battle dragged on.
A separate suit was filed by Woods Construction, which had been developing a residential subdivision on the northeast side of Fairbank near the wind farm.
Fayette County District Court Judge John Bauercamper, in a decision later upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, ruled the turbines were erected in violation of the zoning ordinance. The wind companies were found in contempt of court earlier this year and were given the deadline to remove them or face criminal penalties.
While the three turbines are being dismantled now, an attorney for the companies that own the project said the legal fight is not over.
“The wind LLCs are complying with the order of the district court, and there will be activity at the site as work is done to comply with that order,” said Bret Dublinske.
“While we continue to seek other avenues to allow those investments in wind energy to remain in Fayette County, until we get a different ruling the wind LLCs will continue to fully comply with the order currently in effect,” he added.
The wind companies had attempted to legalize the project by asking the Fayette County Board of Adjustment for a variance to allow the turbines to stay. The board’s June 12 decision to deny that variance has been appealed to district court.
Meanwhile, the wind companies have asked Bauercamper and the state Supreme Court to put the removal order on hold until the court hears the case against the Board of Adjustment.
Kerns hopes those pending appeals are not approved.
“I’m all for renewable energy if they get the kinks worked out,” she said. “But this is not what it was cracked up to be.”