Tama County supervisors keep wind ordinance as written
With the request for a moratorium looming, Tama County’s wind energy conversion system (WECS) moved from discussion item to action item during the most recent board of supervisors meeting on Monday.
The local coalition Tama County Against Wind Turbines – which formed more than a month ago in opposition to Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Winding Stairs Wind project in the county – was present in the audience as they’ve been during every Monday supervisors’ meeting since April 25, filling the room to capacity in order to hear what the supervisors had planned.
Supervisor Larry Vest opened the 10 a.m. agenda item “Reconsideration of 2010 VI.1 Zoning Ordinance Amendment Number 1.”
“We spent a long time working on this and pondering on it. We met with our attorney [Carlton Salmons, Heartland Insurance Risk pool attorney], Region Six, and a couple other organizations and reviewed our [WECS] ordinances and thought they were fine. I cannot and will not risk financial loss. I would move to reaffirm our wind energy conversion ordinances,” he said.
Vest’s motion to reaffirm the WECS ordinance was seconded by supervisor Bill Faircloth and then unanimously approved by the board.
The board’s action was met with a swift response from members of Tama County Against Turbines including Richard Arp and Kathy Krafka Harkema.
“The public is very disappointed and our group is very disappointed in what you just did,” Arp said.
“Tama County Against Turbines wants to publicly go on record as being strongly opposed to your decision today,” Harkema said. “We’re extremely disappointed that you failed to listen to the more than 800 people who have signed our petition calling for updating Tama County’s ordinances. You have admitted the ordinances were first written in 1998, rubber stamped again in 2010.”
Vest then cut Harkema off.
“Wrong,” Vest said.
Harkema then continued his statement.
“It’s correct, Larry, we understand they were first created in 1998 and you reapproved them in 2010 and you reapproved them today without taking any of the public’s consideration into effect,” Harkema said. “You admitted you haven’t done any research on other [counties’ WECS ordinances]. We provided you with examples … We are volunteers and we are doing our research in the best interest of public safety of the people of Tama county. Yet you can’t take the public’s request of you to even take the time to look at making any changes of the ordinances, and the first thing you do when you get into this public meeting you make a motion and you [Faircloth] second it with your easement that you signed and your conflict of interest.”
Vest pushed back against the notion of a conflict of interest, referencing the fact Faircloth has not signed up to have a turbine on his property but has signed an easement with the company behind Salt Creek Wind Farm – currently in development in central portions of the county and separate from Apex – for its phase two project along with other area landowners.
During last week’s board meeting, Vest explained that the board had sought the advice of their attorney, Salmons, as to whether Faircloth’s easement with Salt Creek constitutes a conflict of interest.
Salmons advised the board that it would only be considered so if Faircloth was the lone landowner to sign such an easement.
“How do you live with yourself, and how can you look at all of these people in the room who are going to be watching this online in the eye and say you’re doing the right thing by all citizens?” Harkema asked the three board members.
“We didn’t railroad this through,” Chairman Dan Anderson said — a response quickly met by several ‘yes you did’ comments from members of the public present.
Anderson said board members spoke with several individuals about the wind moratorium request — including Tama County Zoning Administrator Todd Apfel.
Despite repeated requests from Tama County Against Turbines, Apfel has not been in attendance at any of the supervisor meetings since the first meeting the coalition attended on April 25. Anderson said the board did not ask Apfel to attend the May 16 meeting because the board did not feel it was necessary for him to be there.
“Our coalition is growing, and we will continue to do what’s right for the people of Tama County,” Harkema said. “This is a watershed moment in the history of Tama County that will affect all of us here in this room now [and] for the rest of our lives and future generations. You can be assured that we will do everything legally possible to defend the rights of Tama County taxpayers — for their public health and public safety.”
After thanking the supervisors for their time, Arp provided the coalition’s final comments: “As a property owner that doesn’t want a wind tower, I continually hear you guys say you have to protect my property rights. I don’t feel like you guys are protecting my property rights, and aren’t representing me, and not doing the right thing for me.”
Arp’s closing statement was met with several “and me!” responses from the public in attendance.
Work Session revelations
Ahead of the official 9:30 a.m. start of the May 16 board meeting, an hour-long work session was held during which Arp, Harkema and fellow coalition member Kathy Wilson addressed the supervisors from the audience on their continuing request for a wind moratorium.
Anderson began the work session with a statement that the supervisors were going to allow WECS ordinance comments during the work session rather than as an agenda discussion item due to the fact the coalition did not call to be on the agenda in time — a fact which members of Tama County Against Turbines disputed.
The three coalition members spent considerable time attempting to discern what the 10 a.m. agenda item set for later in the meeting would entail.
“Stick around and we’re going to discuss the [WECS] ordinance,” Anderson responded at one point.
Arp then asked if Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren would be present during the agenda item, to which Anderson said no.
It was then revealed through Arp’s continued questioning that Heeren had recently received a letter from a law firm representing Salt Creek.
“We had a letter that was sent by way of Brent Heeren to the board of supervisors from a law firm in West Des Moines as representing Salt Creek. [The letter indicated] if [we] go forward [with a wind moratorium], we’ll see you in court – I summarized that,” Vest said.
Vest further explained the company is threatening to sue the county if they implement a moratorium, but the letter makes no mention of what would happen if the county worked to update the WECS ordinance itself without implementing a moratorium.
The supervisors later told coalition members they had received a few calls and letters in recent days in support of Apex’s Winding Stairs Wind project. Coalition members then pointed out their group — in opposition to further industrial wind development — currently numbers in the hundreds.
“We’ve indicated numerous times and the public has agreed that Tama County’s ordinances need to change. A lot has changed [since first written],” Wilson said.
“When it comes to property rights, it’s essential to make sure that setbacks for wind turbines are measured from a property line, not just a home. That’s important to help protect non-participating landowners’ rights,” Arp said before asking the board to take into account the increased height in modern turbines since the WECS ordinance was written.
Wilson asked Vest if during the 27 years he’s worked as a Tama County Supervisor, if he had ever seen so many people attend their meetings since Tama County Against Turbines first asked for a wind moratorium on April 25. Vest said he hadn’t.
In response to a request for comment, Chris Behrens with Tama County Against Turbines provided the following statement: “Nothing changes. We will continue to educate the public on the dangers of living in an industrial turbine factory. We will also continue to lobby the county government for changes in ordinances that protect everyone’s rights, health, and safety — not just a small group’s pocketbook.”