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Zoning Commission discusses potential changes to wind energy ordinance

Without quorum, no official action possible

Tama Co. Zoning Commission members Doug Dvorak, Wade Mitchell, and Darren Thiessen met on Sept. 12 to discuss the county’s commercial wind energy Ordinance. With only three present members and, thus, a lack of a quorum, ideas were exchanged to help get the ball rolling on possible reforms.

Dvorak immediately addressed the lack of Zoning Commissioners in attendance.

“(Zoning Director) Todd Apfel had indicated to me that he was advised by an attorney not to come to this meeting tonight [and] to not have any meetings,” he said.

After opening the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, Dvorak, as the temporary active chair during the meeting, made a statement about the Pledge.

“The last words of that Pledge are ‘With liberty and justice for all,’ and I think that’s why we’re all here. We want all property owners to have their property rights and the liberties to do as they wish, but at the same time the justice for all,” he said. “We have to have justice for all property owners and their rights. It’s a fine line that we’re treading here.”

The Zoning Commission compared and contrasted the wind ordinances in Worth, Grundy, and Benton counties to help with the restructuring of Tama’s.

Mitchell studied the Worth County Ordinance prior to the meeting.

“I didn’t see anything in there that I would not keep, and everything that’s in the Tama County ordinance is covered in the Worth County,” he said. “Things such as dismantling, setbacks, and the sound are covered more thoroughly in the Worth County Ordinance.”

While examining the Worth County ordinance, Mitchell presented tweaks that will likely need to be made for Tama County, such as when wind turbines are being constructed, examination, and maintenance of road conditions. He also noted the lack of explicit details about the removal of turbines and road repairs after turbine decommissioning in Worth County’s ordinance.

Dvorak did back up the meeting to do a comparison line by line between the two ordinances to help establish a baseline, starting with turbine setbacks from structures. Tama’s setback requirement is only two times the height of the turbine — or 1,000 feet — while Worth’s has a setback of 3.75 times the total height or 1,600 feet.

Dvorak also spoke with Grundy County’s Zoning Coordinator prior to the meeting.

“They had recently gone through changes [and] decided to go with a setback from any residence five times the total height of their turbine, including the blade extended,” he said. “Their rough measurements [of a turbine] were 628 feet tall [making the set back] 3,140. That’s approximately six-tenths of a mile.”

While comparing Worth and Grundy’s setback standards, Mitchell also addressed confinement feeding operations.

“If the confinement feeding operation belongs to the property owner that has the wind turbine, then I don’t have a problem with it being so close [like in Worth’s Ordinance], but if it’s going to create issues with somebody’s livestock then I think that setback could be a little further,” he said.

Dvorak addressed the concerns of making a decision immediately when considering setbacks alone.

“As you can see, we’ve spent 15 minutes just discussing setbacks, and we haven’t come to an agreement because this is delicate,” he said.

The commission then jumped to sound regulations in the ordinance, with Tama’s set at 60 decibels compared to Worth’s extensive regulations of 35-85 decibels dependent on location in relation to human-occupied residency, property lines, time of day, and duration of tone. The World Health Organization did release a report stating dba (noise level in decibels) should not exceed 45 in a residential area.

“We need to get specific on how these noises are. It’s quite a bit different if it’s a continuous noise and if it’s a tone,” Mitchell said. “Before we agree on something or what we’re going to do, we need to research more about the world health organization’s new regulations.”

While Tama County citizens would like to hurry the commission’s process, Mitchell did remind attendees that the project must be handled with care.

“To try to get through everything tonight, I don’t know how we do it because we need to take [time to] get the research on it and then come out with the right conclusion for it. There is a correct answer for this, we just need to find it,” he said.

The decommissioning section in Tama County’s ordinance only mentions removing turbines down to four feet, but tiling goes down four to six feet into the ground. The Commission agreed to adjust this number up to six feet. The public brought up concerns about clearly defining decommissioning in the ordinance and party responsibility, along with escrow accounts to cover those costs.

Dvorak then quoted the Grundy County ordinance decommissioning policy.

“They made the landowner, where the turbine is located, responsible for the removal of the turbine at the end of life, not the county because the county is worried about [law]suits and liability,” he said. “I kind of agree with that if the landowner wants to have a turbine on their property. If we make the landowner responsible for it, that’s definitely going to be a detriment for them wanting to deal with it in the first place.”

Mitchell shared his thoughts on the restoration of land after a decommissioned wind turbine.

“When they’re decommission’s gone, that ground, to me, should be just like it was before it was ever there,” he said.

While only having a brief discussion on the subject, Dvorak noted the handling of non-compliance not being addressed in the Tama County ordinance and recommended: “putting some teeth” into the enforcement clauses.

The public voiced other concerns they wanted the Commission to address, such as shadow flicker, turbine decommission, transmission lines, time limits on conditional-use permits, turbine administration fees, a plan for complaint processes, signal interference, notices to landowner within the area of prior to authorization and DNR recommendations.

“We can see that it’s going to take some time to iron all these issues out,” Dvorak said.

The Commission approved a motion for a six-month moratorium on any further industrial wind energy expansion for recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. In the meantime, the Commission will spend more time researching wind ordinances from other Iowa counties and global agencies to help reform Tama County’s Wind Energy ordinance.

The next public meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors room in the County Administration Building at 104 W. State St. in Toledo.