Taking the foot off the gas pedal but not exactly putting on the brakes. This was essentially the action taken by the Union County Board of Supervisors regarding wind turbines following the recommendation by Union County Attorney Tim Kenyon. Throughout Kenyon’s explanation, he referred to a comment Board Chair Rick Friday had said describing these first wind turbines in the county as a “test drive.” Monday morning, with a crowd of around 20, the supervisors presented their response to recent wind turbine opposition.
[Full audio at end of article]
Over a year ago the supervisors passed the wind energy ordinance. As construction was getting ready to start this spring, a group opposing the turbines gathered support and presented the board with a petition with approximately 700 signatures. Two weeks ago the board moved into closed session with Kenyon to review and discuss legal strategy the county may want to make in light of rules the Iowa Utilities Board is considering.
Friday referenced the petition the board received in May and said since then, the board has done additional research and has consulted with the county attorney. He then let Kenyon have the floor to briefly summarize the board’s options in taking appropriate action.
To start, Kenyon wanted to make one thing very clear: Union County did not approve the construction of any of these wind turbines.
Kenyon made a few more points before getting to his recommendation. First, he emphasized that Union County does not have zoning. Second, he said the Iowa Utilities Board was working to adopt rules and regulations, and that if passed, Union County would comply with these. Third, he stated that Union County has not been part of any private transactions between landowners and MidAmerican. He reminded everyone that this is a land use issue. The board of supervisors has nominal control over what anyone does with their land. And finally, because Union County felt something was needed, the Supervisors utilized what they could in the form of ordinances and adopted ordinance number 73 which focuses on public assets. In this case, roads. The road use agreement and decommissioning plan create the only gatekeeping mechanism.
After finishing up with the background information, this is where Kenyon referenced the board’s desire to make these current turbines the “test drive.” The road use agreement for the 34 turbines has been approved and Union County Engineer Zack Gunsolley will be monitoring the roads. Kenyon said the board indicated it did not want new construction without additional data. before taking action. And that led into Kenyon’s recommendation.
Kenyon said his recommendation to hold any new permits until January 2021 is trying to find a balance of what Union County can do without zoning.
Supervisors Ron Riley emphasized how the supervisors have been listening to county residents.
Kenyon quickly clarified Riley’s comments.
Kenyon is trying to get away from the legal position of saying “stop” because he isn’t sure he can take a legal position and defend the county by saying that. Instead, the board can say it is putting on hold, pausing or slowing this process down.
Ultimately, the board adopted the policy to put a hold on any new applications until January 1, 2021. The policy will be implemented August 1.
The Board of Supervisors meet weekly in the Union County Courthouse. All minutes and agendas, as well as wind energy ordinance can all be found on the county’s website www.unioncountyiowa.org.
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