When it comes to a township’s authority to place restrictions on the development of wind turbines, at least three townships are standing their ground against the Butler County Board of Supervisors’ official request.
It’s not a simple situation.
In October, after six townships passed regulations limiting wind turbine development, the County Board sent a letter to notify all of the county’s 17 townships that the new regulations exceeded the townships’ authority. The letter from County Attorney Julie Reiter said the townships had passed zoning-like regulations and that he regulations led to confusion “to other entities that might be affected.”
The letter asked six townships - Franklin, Savannah, Linwood, Skull Creek, Oak Creek and Richardson – to void the regulations that were overwhelmingly approved in September. The regulations were proposed as safety rules, proponents said. The first banned high voltage power lines under township roads. The second placed setback limits of 1,640 feet from wind turbines to the nearest township road and non-participating property. The second set of rules also placed lower overnight noise limits, as determined by a study, on the turbines.
Lincoln attorney Greg Barton, representing Linwood, Oak Creek and Richardson townships, sent a letter in response to Reiter’s. Asked about the letter, Barton said he preferred not to “litigate cases in the press,” but he explained that the townships were not overstepping their authority.
He said the County Board’s letter also asked the townships to do something very difficult to do—overturn policy that was put forward and approved by township electors.
In townships, board members handle the business of keeping records and paying bills, but when it comes to policy, it is up to the individual electors to initiate policies and to approve or disapprove them by a majority vote. Further complicating matters is that the township policy questions are only raised for a vote once during the year, at the fall annual meeting.
“It was adopted at the township respective annual meetings,” Barton said in a phone interview. “My view is the (township) board can’t just invalidate that which the townships electors adopted. If it could be done, it would have to be somebody putting on that next township (annual meeting) agenda.”
In addition to pointing out the complications of voiding the regulations, Barton’s letter argued that the regulations limiting electric lines placed under roads were “not the equivalent of zoning a zoning regulation.”
Going further on that theme, Barton noted that the townships passed “safety” regulations and were not trying to classify property located within a township as residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural. He cited the 2012 Butler County Dairy vs Butler County case, in which a judge rejected a challenge to Read Township’s regulations of underground manure pipelines.
“No one at the County level got excited when Summit and Read (townships) enacted the three regulations in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and the Summit and Read Regulations are structurally comparable to the three 2015 Regulations,” Barton wrote.
Barton wrote that he still hadn’t received an explanation for what the county’s “end game” was for the request to void the township policies.
The boards of Linwood, Oak Creek and Richardson townships “must respectfully decline the County’s request that they take some undefined action to void the three 2015 Regulations,” Barton concluded in his letter.
The response of the townships to the county helped to clarify the situation for some township residents.
Indeed, when the County Board put out its October letter asking the townships to void the regulations, there was some confusion, said John Stanner, a member of the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers, a group of concerned citizens that helped to draw up the regulations.
He said some township residents thought the County Board had the authority to effectively overturn the regulations. The Wind Watchers reassured the residents that that was not the case, Stanner said.
Even though the County Board and the townships are at odds on the policy, there doesn’t appear to be any pressing need to settle the matter.
On Monday, Reiter said that there was nothing such as a court case which would force the issue. The county, she said, is not taking any further actions.
Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources is looking to build complex of up to 112 wind turbines across northern and eastern Butler County and western Saunders County. Last year the company had acquired easements on more than a dozen properties.
Aside from NextEra, the regulations in Franklin Township also could affect Bluestem Energy, based in Omaha. The company proposes to build two turbines east of David City. Bluestem is developing the project under allowances made by the Nebraska Public Power District for a percentage of electricity to come from alternative or “green” sources.