Wind turbines appear to be the hot topic in Marion County as residents and Marion County Commissioners gather information and attempt to decided if they are for them or against them.
Last week, a few Hillsboro residents came before the City Council to discuss their concerns about another wind farm coming into Marion County as well as bring awareness to the wind project.
They said that they are part of a larger group of residents who are asking Marion County Planning and Zoning to take a look at setbacks and regulations for wind farms.
“We are just here to see if Hillsboro has an interest in this. As we looked at other zoning regulations there have been setbacks, but our county has no setbacks. We are getting the sense that if the county is looking at this again, anybody who has, wants or needs a voice has it. We need to do it right this time and come together as an entire county and not as a little group,” said Hillsboro resident Jeremy Loewen. “Not sure what the city council thinks, but we wanted to make you aware of it.
Mayor Lou Thurston asked Larry Paine, the city administrator, “Where are our limits in terms of zoning?”
Paine said, “We have an interest three miles from the city limit boundary. We have a tower fall zone in the zoning code. From what little I just heard, I don’t think there would be anything that would be regulatory that goes on here. I imagine you can add a little bit more, but I don’t think there’s anything specifically a concern to us from a planning and zoning point of view. Eco Devo (economic development) might be a different story. Maybe community-wide interest could be a third factor.”
City Councilman Jonah Goering explained that he asked Loewen to show up.
He said, “I was unaware how close they (wind turbines) were coming to town. Ebenfeld Church is becoming part of the territory they are talking about. That is a lot closer than I ever thought.”
Thurston explained some of the benefits that could come to Hillsboro with the wind farm plans moving forward based on the previous wind turbines coming into Marion County.
“In terms of the impact that the Diamond Vista project had on the city of Hillsboro, we definitively see a spike in the sales tax revenue during the course of the project. Those living here were spending money in Hillsboro so we saw some eco development there,” said Thurston, “I do understand that if it affects the citizens of Hillsboro then we are going to have an opinion. But if it doesn’t directly impact the city of Hillsboro, it would be hard to take a position on this one way of the other. Thank you for expressing your interest and your concern and giving us some awareness.”
Staci Jantzen, also of Hillsboro, added her thoughts.
“Another concern in reading the literature about these wind farms is health concerns. Inferred sound goes a lot further than decibel sound. We need to make sure we can handle the health impacts. Not saying we are for or against wind. We just have some concerns and need more information,” said Jantzen.
Darin Neufeld, an engineer with EBH Construction Services, pointed out the city does have full rights on the airport.
“You have two miles from airport property that you can control no matter what height-wise. That’s the one I watch for. Where are they going up in relation to the airport,” said Neufeld.
Loewen closed his comments by stating that there will be a public hearing coming up.
“My main concern is that the public is aware. It’s better for them to be aware and pose concerns rather than not know about it,” said Loewen.
These thoughts and more were also shared on Monday, March 11 at the Marion County Commissioners meeting in Marion. The meeting was held at the Marion Community Building to allow room for the expected high attendance. And the room was filled with those both for and against the wind farm.
The meeting kicked off with a presentation by Pat Pelstring of Expedition Winds.
“I’ve asked to provide to you an update on our project first. And secondly to address those questions that were raised a month ago at the meeting,” said Pelstring. “We are glad that this project has this much interest in Marion County. We think that that’s good.”
Pelstring gave some of his background with the wind business. He stated that in 2004 he had little knowledge about it, but he has spent the last 15 years getting a good education about it.
“We are a group of 10-12 hardworking professionals. We’ve made our name by working with the landowners,” said Pelstring.
“To give you an update on the project, we are at about 22,000 acres right now with possibly up to 23,000 acres. We bought it about a year ago. We’ve made tremendous progress in the interconnection grid connection. Really upgraded the leasing so we can get enough room to get a full 200 megawatts in. We’ve finished the environmental. We’ve gone through a lot of the regulatory activities,” said Pelstring. “We’ve added quite a few leases. We’re ready to move forward with our CUP (Conditional Use Permit).”
Pelstring referred to previous meetings several times in his presentation.
“We listened to the audio and what was interesting to us was that there were a lot of questions raised but not evidence given in any of those areas,”said Pelstring. “None of those question are new. They have been brought up before and answered. The reason this industry has been able to grow is that the issues have been legitimately addressed.”
One area he felt had not been supported adequately by opponents is health concerns, including wind turbine syndrome.
“If the suggestions that health concern is caused by wind turbines, I don’t think that we would have 50,000 wind turbines today,” said Pelstring. “We went through the world health organization manual. They list 313 different afflictions that they fight worldwide and WTS was not in there. We have five other studies that dispute the fact that there is no such thing as wind turbine syndrome.”
As far as concerns about sprayers being unable or unwilling to treat farms that have wind turbines, Pelstring stated that they have five or six sprayers in the Wichita area who are willing to speak to commissioners about their willingness to spray if the commissioners want it.
He also discussed the concerns about disruptions to the roads and other inconveniences stating that Expedition Winds will work with landowners on those.
“Now, the first year is pretty disruptive but we pay you for that,” Pelstring said.
The presentation part ended with some comments from Pelstring about the option of a moratorium and how that could end up shutting down the whole project.
Pelstring then added, “We are fighters and will find a way around it.”
Commissioner Kent Becker then opened the floor for comments from the audience. Comments were limited to five minutes each.
Billy Alcorn opened up the discussion with a question for Pelstring and the other employees in attendance with him.
“All I can say is you guys have done a lot of studying, but how many of you guys live by them. I’ve got wind generators about a mile from my house in a little town called Ramona. I guarantee you I can tell you when they kick those generators on. All of this is on TV antenna up there so we lose our television. And you can’t listen to the radio because we lose that. A lot of us had to change our telephone service because it cuts the power down, only when those generators are running. I challenge any of you to come to my house, I live right on the corner of 130th and Quail, and I will prove what I am saying.
When we went to these people they told me to come back in a week and they would have an answer for me. We went back in a week and the answer to us was, ‘that’s progress; learn to live with it.’ I’m not against progress. I am against being lied to,” said Alcorn.
A large number of the crowd broke out in applause.
Evan Yoder, a fourth-generation resident on his Peabody farm, spoke up about making the right decision for those generations down the road who will have to live with the consequences.
Byron Lange, who recently moved back to Marion County, argued for the wind farm. He pointed out that the demographics are declining on average of 50-60 a year while cost of living continues to go up.
“What’s the limit we as a community can handle? We have a project that is viable. It is a proven plan. They have adequate funding in place. If we don’t accept this project, how are we going to fill this hole?”
Several other community members agreed including Dawn Suderman who also owns land in Marion County.
“The wind farm is another stream of income similar to corn, beans, etc. It’s so easy to say ‘but not this’ than to come up with viable options,” said Suderman.
Darrell Brewer pointed out the amount of income the industry could bring in as the wind turbines are constructed.
“We need these dollars. The dollar figure that comes in off these folks is astronomical,” said Brewer.
Other members continued to raise concerns about health issues. Several listed statistics and talked about personal struggles such as sensory disorders that will be affected by the noise of wind turbines.
Pelstring stated that the sound when the wings are turning is about the same as two people having a conversation eight to 10 feet apart. He agreed that this often happens at night.
“I don’t like to go to bed with a conversation next to me,” said Collin Quiring, a landowner who is slated to have a turbine close to his property.
Quiring also asked if there are hazmat materials in the towers. Expedition Winds confirmed that there are.
Jeremy Loewen said, “They (Expedition) shared a map a week or two ago at a support meeting. That map shows 80 wind turbines in this project. 40 of those, 50 percent fall west of Pawnee Road. There are also 30 turbines that fall west of Pawnee Road that fall on nonparticipating land today. That land for those turbines is not under contract. The majority of their (Expedition) farm is projected west of the original footprint and the additional existing conditional use permits. Of that same area, 40 percent of the land by acres is nonparticipating landowners. 60 percent of the project falls in an area of 40 percent nonparticipating landowners. I think that is our commission’s responsibility to protect those 40 percent. I understand the support for wind turbines, but there’s also a significant voice against turbines. It’s also up to our commissioners to hear both sides.”
Jeremy spoke of how Marion County is not struggling as much as everyone keeps saying.
“All we have heard about is dollars. We don’t live in Marion County because this is the best place to make money. We’ve heard a lot about how the county is struggling but in Hillsboro, classes are growing. Marion County is drawing families back. We want to take opportunities and grow them here and pass them on to our children,” said Loewen.
Staci Jantzen discussed the need for increasing setbacks. She pointed out the billboard policy in Marion County is 20 pages long while the wind farm one is only eight pages long. She encouraged people to look at the differences in the two.
She also said, ”Right now we are ignoring half of the people in the project. We live in Marion County because of the people and this issue is already turning people against each other.”
Becker attempted to end the wind farm portion of the meeting with one last speaker, but several in the crowd became upset and demanded more time since Expedition Winds had gotten so much time. Several more were allowed to speak. The commissioners closed the meeting thanking all for coming.
For those interested in this commission meeting or past meetings, you can view the recordings of the MCC Meetings on YouTube.