Tama Co. Board of Adjustment sued over Salt Creek Wind project

T-R FILE PHOTO Heather Knebel of rural Traer, pictured at left during a July forum that her organization, Tama County Against Turbines, hosted, has filed a lawsuit against the Tama County Board of Adjustment over the Salt Creek Wind project.

TOLEDO — On Aug. 26, Plaintiff Heather Knebel of rural Traer filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the Tama County Board of Adjustment (BOA) in Tama County District Court.

Knebel, a member of the Tama County Against Turbines LLC (TCAT) coalition, seeks a declaration from the Court that Conditional Use Permits issued by the BOA to Salt Creek Wind LLC (Salt Creek), including 10 Limited Scope Conditional Use Permits approved Oct. 21, 2020, and 60 Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) approved Dec. 8, 2020, are illegal and void.

Salt Creek submitted the applications for Conditional Use Permits to construct and operate a proposed wind energy generation facility in Tama County, consisting of up to 60 commercial wind turbines. To date, no wind turbines have been constructed for the proposed Salt Creek project.

Knebel has asked the Court to declare the Conditional Use Permits as illegal and void as a matter of law, arguing that the Tama County Board of Adjustment lacked jurisdiction to exercise zoning power over the farm ground upon which the Salt Creek project was proposed.

“My family and I live within the footprint. Salt Creek proposes to put at least two commercial wind turbines only 1,500 feet of my family’s rural home,” Knebel said.

She then expounded on her objections to the controversial project.

“The minimal, outdated Tama County commercial wind energy ordinance fails to provide safe setbacks from property lines to better protect property rights, especially those who have not signed easements for wind projects. Tama County’s current ordinance also allows far too much sound to be emitted from wind turbines at 60 decibels instead of no more than 40 decibels L-max, and the current ordinance doesn’t limit shadow flicker that can be harmful to people and animals or limit infrasound at the property line,” she said. “Plus, the existing ordinance lacks adequate decommissioning protection for landowners. There’s no public complaint process, and no comprehensive details on ordinance enforcement, including levying fines for developers and project operators who fail to comply.”

The Tama County Zoning Ordinance was adopted 24 years ago, in 1998, when language regulating industrial wind projects was included in the master zoning ordinance. The lawsuit further seeks to have the Court order the BOA to revoke the improperly issued Conditional Use Permits.

By approving Salt Creek’s applications, and conditional use permits, Knebel argues that the BOA violated Chapter 335.2 of the Iowa Code by giving the Salt Creek project permission to take 2,638.24 acres of prime Tama County cropland out of active production.

The lawsuit notes that each of the Tama County Zoning Certificate Application forms submitted with the conditional use permit applications clearly stated that the present use of the respective property was “cropland” and the present use of the adjacent property was “cropland.” Nearly all of the cropland included within the conditional use permits for the proposed Salt Creek project remains in active row crop production today.

“Nothing in the proposed Salt Creek Wind project’s application or in the Board of Adjustment meeting minutes suggests that agriculture or row crop farming had been abandoned by any owners of the cropland. In fact, with the exception of a few small excavation sites, all of the 2,638.24 acres of cropland in the conditional use permits issued for the proposed Salt Creek project remains in active row crop production,” Knebel said.

Despite having two proposed commercial wind turbine sites within 1,500 feet of her family’s rural Traer home, Knebel did not receive notice from Salt Creek project representatives or the BOA about the proposed project, or the BOA meetings held to review applications for the proposed Salt Creek Wind project.

​​The Tama County Zoning Ordinance was adopted twenty-four years ago, in 1998, when language regulating industrial wind projects was included in the master zoning ordinance.

Knebel said her mission is on behalf of her fellow community members.

“As a concerned lifelong Tama resident and for the thousand people that want to change the ordinances, stop farmland being changed to industrial, it needs to be done the right way,” she said. “We have an Iowa Code working to make sure that everyone in the county, including my family, is protected and things are done right.”


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