Concerns ranging from excessive noise to the well-being of turkey vultures were presented to Gage officials during a special hearing on wind turbines last week.
The county is evaluating its wind energy regulations following a proposal from Volkswind USA last fall. The proposed wind farm would be primarily in Lancaster County but occupy about 4,000 acres in Gage County. The request was put on hold as both counties addressed concerns regarding wind turbines.
On Tuesday, all but one of 16 people who spoke at the meeting were either firmly opposed to allowing wind turbines or expressed concern about allowing Volkswind to build in Gage County, and proximity to homes was a recurring theme.
“We live on an acreage on the family farm,” said Daryl Schoenbeck, who lives west of Cortland. “This is where my wife grew up. The plan filed earlier with Gage County by Volkswind has five windmills within a mile or closer to our residence. This is a major change to our lives that affects us that we do not want.”
Proposed changes to Gage County regulations include specific definitions of participating and nonparticipating landowners, in addition to general setback and design standards, which under one proposal would be 3/8 mile or four times the total height of the tower from any residence on a nonparticipating property.
See a complete list of the regulations and proposed changes at gagecountynebraska.us.
Lancaster County has not finalized its regulations governing wind turbines. The Lancaster County Board is expected to take up the issue next month, and it has final say on the regulations.
On Aug. 19, the Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission recommended approval of a list of proposed rules on a 5-4 vote after rolling back sound limits and doing away with a daily limit on the amount of time flickering shadows cast by turbine blades can pass over neighboring houses.
In a prior vote with the same margin, the commission changed the proposed sound limits to 50 decibels during the day and 42 at night, measured from dwellings.
At the Gage County hearing, Cindy Chapman, who lives northeast of Cortland, questioned whether the monetary gains for a select group of farmers who own land where turbines would be placed would be worth inconveniencing the rest who live in the area.
“The number of participating farmers, mostly two wealthy farm families in the Hallam and Cortland areas, is minuscule in comparison to the combined population of 319,000 in Lancaster and Gage counties,” she said. “Is the income of these few farmers more important than the health and safety of the rest of us?”
Additionally, Mark Engler, superintendent at Homestead National Monument of America, talked about the detrimental effect wind turbines can have on the view of an area.
Others expressed concern about noise generated by wind farms and claimed lasting headaches can result.
The lone person to speak in favor of wind turbines was Larry Oltman, who lives north of Cortland.
“I personally know that I want my families to be safe and sound, but I also know that Iowa has numerous wind farms and they are more populated per square mile than we are,” he said. “I don’t see a whole lot of people raising a lot of trouble over something that has been there.”
As discussions continue, County Board member Matt Bauman reminded the public there are no pending permits in Gage County.
“Even if we were to get one, I know I would at least not approve anything to do with that until we get these set because we’re in the process,” he said. “Right now, there is no project out there or permit sitting on a desk in Gage County.”
The public will have at least two more opportunities to provide input before an updated set of regulations is approved.
Gage County Planning and Zoning will hold a discussion during an upcoming meeting and will make a recommendation to the County Board later. The board will be able to amend the regulations and will hold an additional public hearing before adopting a proposal.