Zoning Commission holds public hearing on industrial wind, solar moratorium

Salt Creek attorneys announce lawsuit against TCAT

The Tama County Administration Building room was with citizens for the Public Hearing on a Moratorium by the Tama County Zoning Commission. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the Tama County Zoning Commission held a public hearing on the proposal for a 6-month moratorium on future commercial wind energy projects and a 12-month moratorium on future commercial solar energy projects.

Zoning Committee members Wade Mitchell and Douglas Dvorak were present at the meeting. Due to the lack of a majority, a quorum was not met, but Mitchell and Dvorak continued with the hearing, allowing all who attended to address their issues with or against a moratorium. Twenty-six speakers signed up for three-minute slots.

Present were four representatives of Salt Creek Wind and 16 Tama County citizens, along with four letters written to the Zoning Commission.

The night’s first speaker was Attorney David J. Hellstern of Des Moines, representing Salt Creek Wind.

“I’m not some big city lawyer that’s trying to bully you from afar. Salt Creek Wind has no other choice but to sue TCAT and its key members for interference with contractual relations, libel, slander, defamation, and civil conspiracy,” he said. “This proposed moratorium you’re contemplating will only affect my client, Salt Creek Wind. There are no other wind developers that we’re aware of actively pursuing projects. We’ve been working on this project for many years. There was no inkling of resistance in this county until this year when TCAT suddenly popped up.”

Zoning Commission Member Doug Dvorak read letters from those citizens who were unable to attend the Public Hearing on Tuesday night. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Back in June 2020, Tama County’s Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board in support of Salt Creek Wind’s project, as did the Tama County’s Economic Development office. As Hellstern noted, Tama County’s representatives have supported the project for over “For this to come up now is a slap in the face to us. We’re already too far down the road. We’ve already done all the permitting for Phase One. This has always been a two-phase project [and] Phase Two needs to happen. We need to be allowed to do Phases One and Two,” he said. “At this time, TCAT [is] trying to bully us, the Board of Supervisors, [and] now the Zoning Board. That’s not the right answer. We’ve asked you to come [to] talk to us. Please come talk to us.”

The third speaker, Nancy Yuska of Buckingham Township, farms the land with her husband Dennis, whose farm has been in his family for eighty years, and spoke in favor of the moratorium to protect farmland.

“We’ve always been of the opinion that farmland is the ultimate investment. As they say, they’re not making any more of it. The quiet, the solitude, [and] the closeness to nature to the land are second to none for quality of life. Thousands of families living in rural Tama County know of these blessings. The previous generations who’ve loved this land, toiled on this ground, and passed it onto us knew that you never destroy active farmland, but cherish it,” she said. “This is farmland, not an industrial park. We don’t want to be surrounded by these turbines that destroy all values of living. The excavation that takes place on this valuable farmland to construct these turbines, this ground will never again have the soil profile and productivity it has now.”

The fourth speaker, Tom Swlercaewski of Solon, who works for Conifer Power Company as the developer for Salt Creek Wind, addressed the Zoning Commission on the special treatment of TCAT’s agenda.

“I’m here tonight representing Salt Creek Wind and its approximately 35,000 acres worth of participating landowners. I’ve attended many Board of Supervisors meetings throughout 2022 to listen to [what] Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT) members had to say. I’ve spoken at least twice at those meetings, providing project updates, addressing concerns, and inviting TCAT to meet with us — all of [these] were rejected or ignored,” he said.

Attorney David J. Hellstern, representing Salt Creek Wind, addressed TCAT and announced Salt Creek will be issuing a lawsuit against TCAT “for wrongful actions taken so far.” Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Swlercaewski then said he stopped attending supervisors meetings because there was “nothing productive being said by TCAT.”

“Most of TCAT’s concerns would have been addressed if they simply read our CUP Application — or if they’d just meet with us. Why won’t TCAT talk to us? When Salt Creek Wind received its CUP approval and obtained its building permits, it followed the rules and continues to do so. TCAT seems to think that they should get a special set of rules. Why? This isn’t new technology,” he said. “Wind turbines are common throughout Iowa [and] here in Tama County too with all concerns addressed years ago. The economic benefits of wind projects are well known. According to the Iowa Environmental Council, wind energy accounted for $22 billion in capital investment in rural Iowa, and it generates $124 million annually [for] rural Iowa communities. Wind energy isn’t new, it isn’t special, and it isn’t unknown. It’s been around for 20 years, and it’s here to stay. TCAT’s concerns are outdated, regurgitated nonsense used to mask their true goal. Which is to stop wind [turbines] because they don’t want to look at them. Iowa has learned how to effectively regulate wind projects, and so has Tama County. A moratorium isn’t needed. Please see this request for a moratorium for what it is, a request for special treatment. Please tell TCAT to stop wasting County time and taxpayer money. At a minimum, table this consideration. You don’t have a quorum.”

Later in the evening, another speaker yielded their time for Hellstern to address the abstinence of the Board of Supervisors speaking or action on the matter concerning wind projects.

“Salt Creek Wind has detrimentally relied on representations for over two and a half years by Tama County. That is why the Board of Supervisors and the Zoning Commission have been advised by their attorney and insurance company not to take any action amending the wind ordinances or issuing a moratorium,” the speaker said.

When asked why Salt Creek Wind representatives were present at the public hearing when they weren’t addressing the issue of a moratorium but instead addressing issues with TCAT, Hellstern replied, “We’re here because of TCAT. The Zoning Commission was told by their attorney not to issue anything or [hold] meetings.”

Dvorak presented a letter from Aaron Knebel in favor of a moratorium.

“As a county, we deserve the chance and right to publicly discuss wind and solar projects. County ordinances need to be updated to represent current technologies. This isn’t something that should be decided by just a few people. This affects a lot of people,” Knebel wrote. “It takes time to research and discuss what’s best for this county. Everyone has investments and a future in this county to protect. If there’s a middle ground to be found, it should benefit all.”

TCAT and those in support of the moratorium addressed many issues, such as conservation and land preservation, fire suppression systems, setback distances, shadow flicker, ice throws, infrasound, decommissioning and recycling of turbines, wildlife and farm animal well being, and battery storage. TCAT member Nancy Smith also delivered a petition to the Zoning Commission with 1,029 signatures representing the citizens of Tama County.

Another letter in support of the moratorium read by Dvorak was from Lisa and Mike Thompson of Traer, addressing the lack of updates on the ordinance, setback distances, noise, shadow flicker, wildlife preservation, and acreage assessments.

“Who in their right mind would pay money, good money to live in the shadow of these [turbines]? Quality of life used to mean something in Iowa, but I’m having my doubts here in Tama County,” they wrote.

With six speakers in support of a 12-month moratorium on industrial solar, Laura Wilson of Dysart spoke up.

“I do not feel that Tama County or our citizens are protected with what we currently have. Prime farmland with a CSR of 70 or higher shouldn’t be taken out of production for months of time that comes with solar easements,” Wilson said. “There is no complaint process or compliance enforcement detailed in our current ordinance. There’s no language in our zoning ordinance to ensure decommissioning of solar projects. I’m not against farmers utilizing individual solar projects, but industrial solar projects take prime farmland out of production and aren’t covered in our current ordinances.”

As of now, no industrial solar projects have been proposed in Tama County.

In closing, Dvorak addressed the lack of a quorum.

“I want to clarify a few things with comments that were made tonight. No, we don’t have a quorum tonight, so we can’t officially recommend to the Supervisors — these moratoriums. We have a lot of Tama County landowners here, and they care about their land. In defense of why we don’t have a quorum, our former chairman that resigned, he hit retirement age [and] he didn’t want all this stress,” Dvorak said. “We’ve had these discussions going on for months, [and] we’ve had the opportunity for someone else to be appointed to our Zoning Board, so we can have a quorum. We have four people [in the Zoning Commission], one of which always finds an inconvenience for not being here tonight — or because he has an easement on his property which would be a conflict of interest. Another young man that just finished harvest, in his defense, said he would be here, but he couldn’t be. I’m trying to point out that we’d have a quorum here if the Board of Supervisors would have taken the time to appoint another member to our county’s Zoning Board. I’m not speaking on behalf of a quorum here but on behalf of my conscience. I feel like it was my duty to do something. TCAT never bullied any of us to have these meetings. We’re farmers. We care about the land. We care about our future generations. That’s why we’re continuing to push [these] meetings. Several of you made great comments that our roots are here. The people who want to build these turbines aren’t from here. I want to thank you all for coming [and] taking the time.”

Dvorak then encouraged Tama County residents to contact the supervisors. This public meeting lasted over two hours on Tuesday, with all the citizens of Tama County who spoke during the Public Hearing favoring a moratorium. It’s clear to see that the residents of Tama County who spoke wish for the Board of Supervisors to issue a 6-month moratorium on industrial wind projects and a 12-month moratorium on solar projects.

The next public Zoning Commission meeting discussing industrial wind and solar projects has yet to be scheduled.