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DC3 group presses county on turbine moratorium

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Seth Boyes - News Editor

The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors didn't plan on hearing about a proposed wind turbine moratorium again this week, but hear about it they did.

A group of landowners calling themselves Dickinson County Concerned Citizens — or DC3 — asked the board last month to place a moratorium on applications for wind farm developments while the county's planning and zoning commission updates county ordinances. The local ordinances have not been updated since 2009, and the group contends more modern turbine designs are significantly larger than those for which the county ordinances were written. The group has also cited health and safety concerns, such as shadow flicker, animal flight patterns and potentially dangerous ice deposits being flung from rotating turbine blades.

The DC3 group anticipates multiple wind companies will soon submit applications for development sites in rural Dickinson County — totaling about 200 turbines. Greg Mohr, who lives in Spirit Lake and owns a farm near a potential development north of Terril, noted Dickinson County is the smallest of Iowa's 99 counties, and he feels that number of turbines is too many for the local landscape.

"Do we want to be known as a county of clean water and beautiful landscapes or a county of 200 wind turbines?" he asked following Tuesday's meeting.

Dickinson County officials received a letter from Invenergy, an affiliate of the Redrock Wind Project, just one day ahead of its July 25 meeting. Invenergy said it was preparing to submit its application to the county and claimed the proposed moratorium "cannot lawfully apply to Redrock Wind." It also said a total of $7.5 million had been invested in the project to date, and the wind farm would generate $2.8 million in annual tax revenue for the county.

The board took no action on the proposed moratorium during that meeting, and board chair Bill Leupold exercised his discretion in not opening the matter to public comment at that time. Attorney Jamie Hunter, who is representing DC3 through the Des Moines Firm Dickey, Campbell and Sahag, said Redrock is incorrect in claiming immunity from a moratorium, and she said she's concerned the letter may have influenced the board's decision to not address the moratorium that day.

Chairman Leupold previously said he felt it would be inappropriate and even disrespectful for the board to vote on such a moratorium without a recommendation from either the county's board of adjustment or planning and zoning commission.

Dickinson County and its board of supervisors were sued in 2018 by a group called Concerned Citizens of Dickinson County — a group unrelated to DC3 — after voting on a housing development application before the county's planning and zoning commission had formally submitted its recommendation. Hunter represented the concerned citizens in the 2018 case, and a district court judge ultimately ordered that the application process start again from the beginning. The site of that proposed development is currently still farm land.

Hunter appeared during Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting on behalf of the DC3 group, saying she had requested to be on that morning's agenda but had not received a response. She sought the board's permission to discuss the topic of the turbine moratorium. Leupold declined, saying he did not recall receiving Hunter's request and the topic of turbines was not on the day's agenda. Others made similar requests to speak, which the chair also declined.

However, the group pressed the issue, and members of the board began to respond to the group's questions and claims — reiterating that such issues must be handled through the proper government channels.

Supervisor Jeff Thee told the group the county cannot change its processes based on the nature of each individual request.

"We're doing it exactly how we've done it before and how we will do this after — going through the particular processes, letting the independent boards take a look at these things, in which you all have an opportunity to speak to them, voice your concerns, and we take it from there," Thee said. "But we can't just hit the accelerator and jump over steps."

County officials previously said the planning and zoning commission is working to update county ordinances, and the commission has gone so far as to create a subcommittee specifically focused on wind turbines. However, DC3 members are concerned the volunteer commission members may not complete their work for three years given how long the last update took.

"Without a moratorium, the P&Z commission’s work is futile in the likely event that wind turbine applications are submitted before the P&Z can complete its study," Hunter wrote in an Aug. 3 letter to Leupold. "By refusing to implement a moratorium, the supervisors are inherently overruling the P&Z’s unanimous opinion that the wind turbine ordinance needs to be studied and updated."

DC3 members also expressed concern over what they see as potential conflicts of interest within the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors, indicating they believe at least two members have agreements in place related to the potential turbines.

County Supervisors Tim Fairchild and Steve Clark both confirmed following Tuesday's meeting that they intend to abstain from board votes specifically related to particular wind turbine developments. Neither expects any turbines to be built on their farmland, but both said they had agreements related to potential projects in place before they ever sought election to the board.

"I probably will recuse myself because you get sign-up money, and I've been receiving that over the years," Clark said, adding that electrical lines could be buried under a portion of his property as part of the agreement. "So we will continue to get money from Invenergy. I won't get a turbine. I won't get the big dollars. I'll just get the peon's share for running it under."

Similarly, Fairchild said he's invested in a number of opportunities over the years, and there is the potential a buried utility line could cross his property as well.

"The reason that I am going to abstain is because, 15 years ago, I invested in what was going to be a community wind farm," Fairchild said. "Soon after I got in, it went a different direction and it's now Redrock Energy. So I may or may not make money if this goes through. I don't know that I'm going to make any money on this, but the people at Redrock tell me I will — but they've been telling me that for years."

Fairchild went on to say he is also seeking guidance from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board regarding any votes which may arise regarding broader policy issues.

The county planning and zoning commission is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, and the county board of adjustment is schedule to meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28 — the deadline to submit documents for both meetings has already passed. The county board of supervisors will meet again the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 22.


In other business


The county board of supervisors voted 4-1 to approve attorney Tim Whipple of Ahlers and Cooney to represent Dickinson County as an intervening party during the Iowa Utility Board proceedings regarding Navigator CO2 Ventures' proposed carbon pipeline. Navigator is one of two companies who have proposed constructing liquified carbon pipelines across Dickinson County as part of a five-state network. Some local landowners have concerns the state board may grant the pipelines eminent domain over their land for the profit of a private company.

The county supervisors had previously approved Whipple for a similar role regarding the Summit Carbon Solutions' pipeline at the request of local landowners. Supervisor Tim Fairchild questioned whether the legal efforts have been successful, but Dickinson County Attorney Steve Goodlow felt it was too early in the process to tell if that was the case. Supervisor Kim Wermersen shared some of Fairchild's hesitation, noting the permitting approval lies with the Iowa Utilities Board — a three-member body, which Wermersen noted has members with ties to the governor's office. However, Wermersen said he feels the board should do all it can to represent the county in the matter, short of "just throwing darts at the wall."

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