(KMAland) — With the year 2020 coming to a close, KMA News presents "Project 2020," a series of reports looking back at the top local and regional news stories of the past year. Today's segment features a look at the issue of wind turbines in Page County.
In late 2019, the Page County Board of Supervisors held two public meetings over the county’s wind production ordinance. At a subsequent board of supervisors meeting in January, the board opted to make no changes to the ordinance adopted in October 2019. Much of the public feedback from those opposed to wind turbines in the county dealt with setback regulations, which currently require 1,500 feet between a wind turbine and a non-participating landowner's house. Resident Jane Stimson expressed her displeasure with the supervisor’s decision to leave the ordinance as is.
"I think the supervisors are looking out for big corporations, whose money is going somewhere," said Stimson. "They are looking out for landowners that don't live here, that make their money other ways. They don't give a rip about what's going on here. I think you are looking out for them more than you are looking for those of us who have been in families for generations in this county and we've socially helped the county and we've financially helped the county. And you are selling us out."
The wind turbine issue spilled over into the electoral realm as one of the central issues in a race for two seats on the board. In a May candidates forum on KMA prior to the June Primary, Chuck Morris — who would go on to win re-election for his seat later in the year — said before enacting the ordinance, the county was facing a "free-for-all" without standards for wind structures. He also challenged the contention that the setback regulation should be changed.
"We challenged the opposition group who wanted a third night meeting," said Morris, "show us an active wind farm in Iowa that has setbacks that are tied to the property line. They are not there. Wind companies can't format their farms, if that's the stipulation. I understand how people don't like them. But, I also understand that people that want them, and who have signed those land leases, we should not infringe on their rights, either.”
Perhaps the most contentious issue within the county’s wind energy ordinance dealt with setbacks from non-participating landowners. Jacob Holmes — who successfully ran for the District 1 Supervisor’s seat to succeed Jon Herzberg — said at a supervisors meeting in July that more input was needed from the county’s residents.
"If a non-participant has liability on their property from wind turbines, without any choice of their own," said Holmes, "I do not understand how that is acceptable. I think that would be a need for more discussion in the county. A lot of people have been awakened to that. Is there a number or amount of people that would make you listen to some of these property owners that would like to have more consideration of their rights, and not just the wind turbines' rights?"
Following repeated calls for more public input and education, a grassroots group of citizens took matters into their own hands in August, organizing an informational meeting at the Page County Fairgrounds. The meeting included a couple who lives amongst turbines, a realtor that sells real estate amongst turbines and others, as well as informational materials. Kalen Fulk was one of the organizers of the meeting. Prior to the meeting, he told KMA News it was intended for anyone, regardless of their feeling on wind turbines.
"I would encourage everybody to attend, whether you're for them or against them, I would encourage everybody," said Fulk. "Basically, it's a great informational meeting. We kind of look at it as there is a salesman running around selling these things. And you know the salesman always has the positive side. Let's hear from people that have experienced it before we make a 50-year plan."
Sentiments boiled over at a supervisors meeting on September 1st. During the public comment portion of the meeting, 21 residents spoke out against the county’s current wind production ordinance. Rod Behrhorst told the supervisors at that meeting that they should listen to what their constituents want.
"I don't want these people shut off," said Behrhorst. "They're our voice -- the taxpayers of Page County. I think -- until you guys prove me different -- that's so far the majority. That's all I ask. In a democracy, what you stand for, the majority rules. You guys have wiped that out. You got this office because of majority rule. We can take it away from you just as quick."
Supervisor Jon Herzberg responded, saying he felt attacked.
"I will tell you one thing," said Herzberg. "I'm beginning to think we're getting threatened and I think this is a bullying tactic. I'm very concerned."
At that point, County Sheriff Lyle Palmer stopped the meeting to restore order. That meeting prompted the supervisors to remove public comments from their meetings for several weeks as a “cooling off” period. On October 13th, the supervisors held an informational meeting of their own with a panel discussing the benefits of wind energy in southwest Iowa. Over the next few weeks, at least one resident requested that the supervisors place video of the August meeting on their website or hold a similar meeting with the opposing viewpoints to wind production. Both of those requests were denied.
While no wind turbines are currently up and spinning in Page County, the groundwork has been laid. On October 20th, the supervisors approved two separate requests from companies to place meteorological towers in the county. Gabe Klooster of Invenergy says the MET towers are precursors to wind turbine development.
"We're seeking to get approval to install a single MET tower -- a meteorological tower," said Klooster. "It is essentially an eyed tower that would be used to study the wind, quantify the speed and the strength. It's critical for development of the wind farm that we're working on. This tower doesn't create any electricity. It's not a turbine and doesn't have any moving parts. It doesn't make any noise. It would be temporary in nature. We assume it would be standing for two-to-three years."
Significant developments regarding race relations and police treatment of minorities took place in 2020, both locally and nationally. We'll take a look at the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and more in our next edition of Project 2020.