With the demand for a moratorium looming, the Tama County Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) moved from a point of discussion to a point of action at the last Supervisory Board meeting on Monday.
The local Tama County Against Wind Turbines coalition – which formed over a month ago in opposition to Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Winding Stairs Wind project in the county – was present in the audience as it was during of the supervisors’ meeting every Monday since April 25. , filling the hall to capacity in order to hear what the overseers had planned.
Supervisor Larry Vest opened the 10 a.m. agenda item “Reconsideration of Amendment Number 1 to Zoning Ordinance VI.1 of 2010”.
“We spent a lot of time working on it and thinking about it. We met our lawyer [Carlton Salmons, Heartland Insurance Risk pool attorney]Region Six and a few other organizations and reviewed our [WECS] prescriptions and thought they were fine. I cannot and do not want to risk financial loss. I would move to reaffirm our ordinances on wind energy conversion,” he said.
Vest’s motion to reaffirm the WECS ordinance was seconded by supervisor Bill Faircloth and then unanimously approved by the board.
The board action was met with a swift response from members of Tama County Against Turbines, including Richard Arp and Kathy Krafka Harkema.
“The audience is very disappointed and our band is very disappointed with what you just did,” Arp said.
“Tama County Against Turbines wants to publicly state that it strongly opposes your decision today,” Harkema said. “We are extremely disappointed that you did not listen to the more than 800 people who signed our petition calling for the Tama County ordinances to be updated. You admitted that the ordinances were first written in 1998 , then approved again in 2010.”
Vest then cut Harkema.
“Bad,” Vest said.
Harkema then continued with his statement.
“That’s right Larry, we understand they were first created in 1998 and you re-approved them in 2010 and you re-approved them today without public consideration,” Harkema said. . “You admitted that you didn’t do any research on other [counties’ WECS ordinances]. We have provided you with examples… We are volunteers and we conduct our research in the best interest of the public safety of the people of Tama County. Yet you cannot accept the request of the public to even take the time to consider making changes to the ordinances, and the first thing you do when you walk into that public meeting, you make a motion and you [Faircloth] accompany it with your signed easement and your conflict of interest.
Vest pushed back against the notion of conflict of interest, referring to the fact that Faircloth did not sign to have a turbine on his property but signed an easement with the company behind Salt Creek Wind Farm – currently under development in the central parts of the county and separated from Apex – for its phase two project with other landowners in the area.
At last week’s board meeting, Vest explained that the board had sought advice from his attorney, Salmons, on whether Faircloth’s easement with Salt Creek constituted a conflict of interest.
Salmons informed council that this would only be considered so if Faircloth was the only landowner to sign such an easement.
“How do you live with yourself, and how can you look at all these people in the room who are going to look this in the eye online and say you’re doing the right thing for all citizens?” Harkema asked the three council members.
“We didn’t carry that out,” said chairman Dan Anderson – a response quickly met with several “yes, you did” comments from members of the public in attendance.
Anderson said board members spoke with several people about the wind moratorium request, including Tama County Zoning Administrator Todd Apfel.
Despite Tama County’s repeated pleas against the turbines, Apfel has not attended any of the supervisors’ meetings since the first meeting the coalition attended on April 25. Anderson said the board did not ask Apfel to attend the May 16 meeting because the board did. not feel that it was necessary for him to be there.
“Our coalition is growing and we will continue to do what is right for the people of Tama County,” Harkema said. “This is a defining moment in the history of Tama County that will affect all of us here in this room now. [and] for the rest of our lives and future generations. You can be assured that we will do everything legally possible to defend the rights of Tama County taxpayers – for their public health and public safety.
After thanking the supervisors for their time, Arp provided the coalition’s final comments: “As a landlord who doesn’t want a wind tower, I continually hear you say you need to protect my property rights. I don’t feel like you are protecting my property rights, representing me, and doing the right thing for me.
Arp’s closing statement was met with several “and me!” responses from the audience.
Revelations of the working session
Prior to the official 9:30 a.m. start of the May 16 board meeting, an hour-long working session took place in which Arp, Harkema and fellow coalition member Kathy Wilson sat down. are addressed to supervisors from the public for their continued demand for a moratorium on the winds.
Anderson began the working session with a statement that supervisors would allow comments on WECS orders during the working session rather than as an agenda item due to the coalition not was not called to be on the agenda on time – a fact that Tama County members against the turbines disputed.
The three coalition members spent considerable time trying to discern what the 10 a.m. agenda item set for later in the meeting would entail.
“Stick around and we’ll discuss the [WECS] prescription,” Anderson replied at one point.
Arp then asked if Tama County District Attorney Brent Heeren would be present during the agenda item, to which Anderson said no.
It was later revealed through Arp’s continued questioning that Heeren had recently received a letter from a law firm representing Salt Creek.
“We received a letter sent through Brent Heeren to the Supervisory Board of a West Des Moines law firm representing Salt Creek. [The letter indicated] if [we] go forward [with a wind moratorium]we’ll see you in court – I summed that up,” Vest said.
Vest further explained that the company threatened to sue the county if it enforced a moratorium, but the letter made no mention of what would happen if the county tried to update the WECS ordinance itself without implement a moratorium.
Supervisors then told coalition members that they had received a few calls and letters in recent days in support of Apex’s Winding Stairs Wind project. Coalition members went on to point out that their group – opposed to further industrial wind development – currently numbers in the hundreds.
“We have repeatedly indicated and the public has agreed that Tama County ordinances need to change. Many things have changed [since first written]”Wilson said.
“As far as property rights are concerned, it is essential to ensure that wind turbine setbacks are measured from a property line, not just a house. This is important to help protect the rights of non-participating landowners,” Arp said before asking council to consider the increased height of modern turbines since the WECS order was written.
Wilson asked Vest if in the 27 years he had worked as Tama County Supervisor, if he had ever seen so many people attend their meetings since Tama County Against Wind Turbines first asked a wind moratorium on April 25. Vest replied no.
In response to a request for comment, Chris Behrens of Tama County Against Turbines provided the following statement: “Nothing changes. We will continue to educate the public about the dangers of living in an industrial turbine factory. We will also continue to lobby the county government to change ordinances that protect the rights, health and safety of everyone – not just the pocketbook of a small group.