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Farmer, Black Hawk County battle over wind farm

WATERLOO – A Black Hawk County farmer was back in court Tuesday seeking to overturn permits approved for a 35-turbine wind farm in southern Black Hawk County.

Harold Youngblut is asking District Court Judge Kellyann Lekar to overturn an April 24 decision by the county Board of Adjustment allowing the 70-megawatt wind energy facility to be developed in Eagle Township east of Hudson.

“The time to recognize there’s a real problem with these turbines is now, not when they’ve already started building them,” said John Holmes, Youngblut’s attorney.

Brent Hinders said his clients on the Board of Adjustment already weighed the merits of the turbines before its 3-2 vote and asked Lekar to reject Youngblut’s petition.

“The right thing to do was decided by the Board of Adjustment after a five-hour hearing,” Hinders said. “… This is a valid exercise of government, to allow people to use their land in a way they want to use their land.”

Holmes argued that Iowa law and the county’s zoning ordinance prevented the county from regulating what happens on land used for farming purposes. The turbines would be constructed on farm fields.

“If the ordinance doesn’t apply, then they have no business issuing a special permit for these big turbines,” he said.

He also said the turbines would be an “illegal taking” of the neighboring property owners’ rights because of the loss caused by noise and health issues.

Hinders countered that county officials have the right to regulate agricultural property when it isn’t being used for farming purposes, namely turbines. He likened the situation to a farmer needing zoning approval to open a motorcycle business in his barn.

Hinders urged the court to disregard the “illegal taking” argument because it was not raised in the initial court filings and didn’t apply because none of the surrounding property owners lost their rights to seek damages if the turbines are a nuisance.

Holmes had requested to hold an expanded hearing where he could bring a witness from Illinois to testify about how he was forced to move from his home when turbines were built and a physician from Wisconsin to talk about illness caused by the turbine vibrations.

Hinders objected to allowing additional evidence when the court’s purpose was to review the record and determine whether the Board of Adjustment acted legally, not whether it agreed with the board’s decision.

Testimony about noise and health issues drew comments from both sides during the April 24 board hearing.

“Additional evidence would be inappropriate,” Hinders said. “All of those things that have been said today could have been said at the Board of Adjustment hearing.”

Officials from DeSoto-based RMP Access, which is planning to build the Washburn Wind Energy project, have been attending the court hearings as audience members.