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County panel to consider wind farm tour

Members of a Buchanan County Planning and Zoning group decided Wednesday that touring a working wind farm could assist in creating an ordinance to govern local turbines.

The panel met at the courthouse to consider answers to questions, plus revisions, to a proposed ordinance for a potential commercial wind energy project. NextEra, a Florida-based company, has expressed interest in building a wind farm in the county.

Before the hearing, a new group – Friends of Buchanan County – sought signatures for a petition that will ask county officials to consider instituting a one-mile property setback for any wind turbines. The group also plans to ask the Buchanan County Commission to enact a moratorium on wind energy projects pending the communication of the benefits and risks to affected residents.

“We are not opposed to sustainable renewable energy,” said Deb Birr, a member of the group’s steering committee. She said the Friends group is comprised of residents and landowners who live east of St. Joseph. An initial meeting was held Monday night.

Another member, Lynn Anderson of Marion Township, explained to News-Press NOW why the organization formed.

“We are concerned about the effects that wind turbines will have on our communities, our land. We just really hate to see the division it can cause and have caused in our neighboring county,” he said, referring to opposition to Next Era in DeKalb County.

Officials with Black & Veatch, a Kansas City consultant retained by the county, explained answers to questions submitted by planning and zoning members in August. For example, the company’s research revealed an average nationwide cost of about $25,000 per wind turbine.

In another area, Black & Veatch reported that the county could expect an influx of tax revenue related to the wind farms. The Rock Creek facility in Atchison County, for instance, has produced $1.5 million annually in revenue and $650,000 a year for school districts.

One panelist, Steve Reardon, wondered whether placing turbines near the county’s smaller cities could impede their growth.

“If you don’t give them room to breathe and grow, you dry them up and kill them,” Reardon said. “Are you opening yourself up to lawsuits?”

County attorney Chad Gaddie said any potential changes to the proposed wind ordinance can be filtered at work sessions before a recommendation to the county commission, which will have the ultimate say-so in enacting an ordinance. Gaddie also said residents will be allowed to express their opinions through public hearings on the process.

He added he will review the options the county may have in calling for a public referendum on wind farms and report on his findings at the panel’s October meeting.

Gaddie will also confer with NextEra on setting up a tour for themselves and residents to one of the company’s working wind farms, as a means of comprehending the operations.