INDEPENDENCE/FAIRBANK - On Wednesday, Aug. 2, Buchanan County Zoning & Planning Commission met at the Independence Public Health Building to discuss and vote on a request to rezone two parcels in Section 7, Fairbank Township, in proximity to Buchanan County’s Amish settlement. The request seeks permission from the Commission to rezone the site from A1 to A2 for the purpose of leasing out the land to Optimum Renewables for the construction of three small wind turbines at that location.
Last month a similar request was denied by both the Commission and the Board of Supervisors, due to the previous site’s location, just a mile or so outside of the town of Fairbank, as well as the high CSR value of the land. Residents in the area also had concerns in terms of health, noise, and the possible effects on livestock and wildlife. That request was also initiated by Optimum Renewables’s desire to lease the land for the construction of turbines.
Optimum Rewables is a small investment company that develops, builds, and owns renewable energy projects in North America, touting many years experience, and expertise in development and building of renewable energy projects, and financial and project management. The company’s website states, “Through hard work and dedication, we’re taking the lead in the development of green energy generation … and are committed to helping the U.S. achieve its goal of energy independence through the production of 30 percent of US energy needs from renewable sources of energy by the year 2030.”
Last year Buchanan County Supervisors drafted and approved the current Wind Turbine Ordinance, which Optimum Renewables saw as sign that Buchanan County might be open to wind energy generation projects within the county.
Unfortunately for the Company, previous site selections have been met with a good deal of opposition, and Wednesday’s meeting was no exemption as a standing-room-only sized crowd, over half of which were Amish, converged on the Public Health Building to have their say, regarding the project.
Due to opposition voiced on the previous request, John Booreman and Karson Rumpf from Optimum Renewables, and Mike Fisher of Impact 7G held an informational meeting Tuesday night to address project concerns at the Fontana Picnic Shelter, with only about a dozen people, including several Amish, showing up to ask questions.
Opening comments at Wednesday night’s Commission Hearing, were presented by both Mike Rau, speaking on behalf of the landowners, and John Booreman once again, speaking on behalf of Optimum Renewables.
According to Mike Rau he rents land at the site from his mother and aunt and was approached by Optimum Renewables (OR) about leasing the ground for the purpose of constructing three wind turbines.
“They sat down with us and talked about the proposed project and said they were willing to work with us. The site where the turbines would be constructed runs north and south across the two parcels and used to be an old, dry lane my dad used to get back to the timber, but it’s no longer used and we’ve just been farming over it. It’s not real productive ground,” he said, explaining that the (old lane), encompassing approximately two acres would be where the actual turbines would be constructed, and that the family feels the turbines would be a good way to utilize that land.
Booreman spoke next, reminding attendees that construction of wind turbines was an approved use for the land, as “duly approved by Supervisors over a year ago, in the Wind Turbine Ordinance.”
“We saw that as a sign,” he continued, “to attract projects like this. We were looking for a site to place three turbines, for the purpose of electrical generation for electricity that goes to the Alliant eastside substation in Fairbank. We reached out to people in the area saying we will offer, and continue to offer, compensation to residents nearby, because of their proximity to the project.”
He went on to say that previously they had selected another site near Fairbank, about a mile outside of town, but that request was opposed by residents based upon proximity to the city limits, and rezoning was denied.
“That’s why we looked for another site, and this one is located well outside the city limits,” he said.
He also addressed some concerns and “misconceptions” about wind energy, such as:
Lowering property values. According to Booreman, there is no evidence that a three-wind turbine project like this would lower values.
Regarding health concerns, he said, “ There are various claims out there, but no credible evidence to substantiate it.
Regarding endangerment of the environment and wildlife, he said, “Birds do run into turbines, but it’s not an ‘epidemic’ and minor compared to house cats, poisonings or flying into cars.
Another concern, was stray currents/voltage, which was brought up at the Tuesday informational meeting at Fontana. Mike Fisher of Impact 7G addressed that concern at the time saying, he was not aware of any incident in the State of Iowa for sure, or even in association with any incident in North America.
Finally, Booreman addressed concerns regarding the CSR of the new site saying, as far as he knew it was a fairly low CSR, with minimal land consumption.
“It will be under two acres when done. … When you look at economics - the tax base increases vs. two acres of corn, benefits of wind power far outweighs that concern. That’s really not the focus anyway. The focus is, is this a legitimate use of the land, specifically voted upon and considered by the Board of Supervisors, as a legitimate use in rural Buchanan County.
Several opening comments made by Booreman were met with derision among the gathered crowd, with one gentleman stating that for every point made by Booreman it could also be refuted through research and Internet information.
Wade Heineman, broke the ice for the opposition’s side of things, saying, “This is a small group of investors pushing this project … and THIS,” he said pointing to all attendees in the room, “is the community that surrounds these turbines. At first, the City would be affected, and now, it’s the Amish Community, and this project can affect their livestock, their health, and their real estate values. According to Internet information, a wind farm like this can drop property values by 30 percent!”
Members of the Commission asked if he had proof of that claim, with Heineman responding, “not with me, but I can get it. (Mr. Booreman) should need proof of what he says too,” he said.
“And he will, I’m sure when the final decision is made by Supervisors,” a Commission member said.
Jerry Heineman, another meeting attendee wanted to know if there was anything in the Turbine Ordinance that addresses nearby schools.
“There’s an Amish School just a short ways away, anything in the ordinance about that?” He asked.
Members of the Commission responded saying that setbacks have been addressed in the Ordinance, but there was really nothing specifically mentioned about schools.
“There have been accounts of the turbines icing up and throwing off ice chunks up to a quarter of a mile away,” added Wade Heineman.
“The school is about a half-mile from the site,” Booreman answered. “As far as icing goes, today’s technology can detect that sort of thing and the turbines will automatically shut down if there’s icing on the blades,” he said.
Following Booreman’s response a couple stepped forward from Bradford, Iowa, who spoke on behalf of turbines.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so that’s why we decided to come to this meeting. We live right next to a wind turbine, and there has never been a problem with ice being thrown off. There’s also a wind turbine in Story City located right next to a school and THEY have never had any sort of a problem…
Interrupted, people in the crowd asked, “Who invited you anyway? You can go back to Bradford and take the wind turbines with you!”
Another woman in the crowd wanted to know if O.R. could guarantee, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these turbines would not cause any issue with horses and livestock, and if so would the company be willing to compensate the Amish for their livelihood if there was?
At this point the Commission asked any Amish in the room to share their feelings about the proposed turbine project.
Mr. Raber, who identified himself as one of the leaders of the Community asked, “How many nos do you want?”
Then went on to say that he is a nature lover, and when he goes out for a walk he doesn’t want to hear the “whoosh” of the blades. He also wanted to know if O.R. would stop at just three turbines, and if more were built one day, he didn’t want to hear complaints in the Community about it, causing some Community members to move away because they didn’t like the noise.
Ron Grapf responded later in the discussion, in support of the windmills, saying, “ I have land adjoining on the north and east side of the proposed site and I have no problem with them. … and if these people don’t want it in Fairbank Township, I’m fine with that too. I’ve lived on my farm all my life, and as far as smaller farmstead windmills go, they squeak, groan and make a lot of noise. But I have purposely gone under these bigger electricity-producing windmills and I didn’t find them offensive. If we want to get rid of everything ‘offensive’ then let’s get rid of the ethanol plant, and the water towers in Fairbank and Hazleton, so I can look across the horizon and it remains pristine. … As far as the Amish School is concerned, the property owners have timber immediately south of the proposed turbines so there’s already a buffer in place. So if there’s an objection that can be substantiated from other adjoining neighbor you need to listen to them. But if complaints are only about the concept, take it somewhere else.”
One question that did remain outstanding, toward the end of the meeting, was the confusion over the CSR rating of one of the parcels, and in the end, Commissioner Jerry Slattery made a motion to deny the request, saying, “Our mission is to look at the future to decide if these uses are appropriate for the land, and generally we do that unless there are extenuating circumstances. The exact CSR is still in question, so I make a motion to turn this down. Find a better place. You were turned down at Fairbank and now it’s the Amish Community. … Find a better location. Find a lower CSR.”
Commission John Ryherd seconded the motion. The request was denied 5 to 2, with a round of applause following the decision.
The issue will now be going to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.