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Wind farms add to road woes in region

A country drive can be a lonely experience on Northwest Missouri’s backroads, with little traffic outside of harvest and planting season.

Missouri’s growing wind farm industry threatens to upend that calm and create new road woes for motorists in rural areas. Each wind farm brings heavy equipment and oversized loads to isolated county roads and secondary state routes that weren’t designed for that kind of traffic.

“It’s the repeated heavy loads during construction that causes us a little concern,” said Adam Watson, area engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “You see more distress. The larger roads, they handle it better.”

MoDOT and county governments often reach agreements with companies to return roads to their previous condition after wind farm construction, a process that can last 18 months or more. One state representative, J. Eggleston of Mayvsille, proposed a bill this year that would require wind companies to reimburse states or counties for any road and bridge damage during construction.

House Bill 1046 also includes provisions for buffer zones around turbines and reimbursement for residents who lose television, cell phone or radio reception because of a wind turbine. The bill is languishing in committee without a hearing scheduled.

Kyle Carroll is DeKalb County’s presiding commissioner and an outspoken critic of wind farms. He acknowledges that wind farm companies are doing a better job of working with governments to fix roads, but he thinks the requirements need to be set in state law.

“We have more regulations on billboards and barbed wire,” he said. “We have nothing on wind. The big problem is they pick on unzoned counties.”

DeKalb County’s previous presiding commissioner, Harold Allison, said roads “got a little rough” when NextEra Energy Resources built a large wind farm that went into service in late 2016. He said the company met its obligation to fix the gravel roads, which he believes are in better shape today than before construction.

That didn’t make it easier while those roads were filled with graders, backhoes, cranes, huge turbines and cement trucks.

“They were in really bad shape when they used them,” he said.

The issue is emerging as wind farm construction picks up pace in Northwest Missouri. In addition to NextEra in DeKalb County, the Rock Creek project in Atchison County was the state’s largest wind farm when it opened two years ago.

Nebraska-based Tenaska is building the Clear Creek wind farm north of Maryville, and another project could be coming to southern Nodaway County. This week, regulators approved Ameren Missouri’s plans for a wind-energy project between Fairfax and Rock Port.

A spokeswoman for Tenaska said the company is required to keep roads passable during construction and will pay for any improvements before construction and any road repairs needed after the turbines are operational. “In many cases, roads will be substantially improved,” said Timberly Ross of Tenaska.

Until then, drivers who already are accustomed to dodging potholes may have to show patience. Watson said most rural residents seem to understand.

“Most companies are trying to be good neighbors,” he said. “They don’t want to leave a lasting, negative impression.”

Watson said MoDOT is responsible for getting state roads back to their previous condition. Private companies are required to make any improvements, like wider intersections, to accommodate oversized loads.