Wind energy moratorium request enters round two in Tama County
MAY 7, 2022
RUBY F. BODEKER
TOLEDO — It was round two this past Monday morning during the standing-room only Tama County Board of Supervisors meeting in Toledo for members of the coalition group Tama County Against Turbines. They again asked the supervisors to enact a moratorium on any new wind energy projects in the county as well as on any future phases of existing projects.
Currently, Tama County has three wind energy projects in various phases of development, construction or production — including Apex Clean Energy’s Winding Stairs Wind project in development in the northern and eastern parts of the county; phase one of Salt Creek Wind in the central portion of the county, which is nearing construction after receiving conditional use permits for up to 10 wind turbine generator foundations in late 2020; and the Vienna Wind Farm near Gladbrook which was built in 2011 and 2012.
Discussion opened with a statement by supervisor Larry Vest asking the coalition to be more tolerant and respectful than he felt some of the members were during the previous meeting.
Vest also asked the group to refrain from using cellphones and cameras to capture images and video of the public meeting stating, “If KCRG wants some information, they could have a court reporter here” – seemingly in reference to the coalition’s public postings on its Facebook page.
Coalition leaders Jon Winkelpleck of rural Dysart, Tama County landowner Kathy Krafka Harkema of Poweshiek County, and Janet Wilson of rural Clutier began laying out the group’s primary reasons for the wind energy moratorium request. One of them was allowing time for the supervisors to update the current wind energy conversion ordinance to better address the size and speed of modern turbines – something the group feels has made the 2010 ordinance outdated.
Part of the discussion also focused on Second District Supervisor Bill Faircloth of rural Toledo, who recently signed an easement with Salt Creek Wind as part of its second phase of development.
“I’m going to recuse myself. I’m the one who signed with Salt Creek Wind so I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to listen,” Faircloth said.
Toward the end of the more than hour long discussion, coalition leaders again asked Faircloth if he felt he had a conflict of interest and presented him with a recusal form to sign after reading parts of the Iowa Code aloud.
In response, Fairlcloth said he would be meeting with the board’s Heartland Insurance attorney Carlton Salmons on Thursday to determine his next steps but would continue to refrain from speaking and vowed to “stay out of it.”
“According to public records, you signed your easement with the Salt Creek Wind project on Dec. 28, 2021,” Harkema said to Faircloth. “We have [the easement] right here, folks, and that’s a matter of public record. So under Iowa law, you were obligated to disclose your direct conflict of interest at the first board of supervisors’ meeting after you signed this.”
During multiple rounds of questioning by the three coalition leaders as to why the supervisors would not commit immediately to either an outright moratorium or give them verbal assurances they would not approve any further wind energy permits as they work to decide on a moratorium, Vest stated doing so could lead to a lawsuit from Salt Creek Wind.
“If we [enacted a moratorium] today, we’d be inviting a lawsuit because we have those Salt Creek projects,” Vest explained before later stating, “I’m not going to step into anything that’s going to guarantee us a lawsuit and have taxpayers pay the settlement out of court.”
Coalition members then brought up the counties of Adair, Hardin, and Grundy which have either enacted moratoriums like the coalition is requesting and/or withstood lawsuits that resulted from such a move.
Vest told the coalition their actions in the last month have effectively created a moratorium in Tama County – stopping further development by Apex in its tracks.
“Does the threat of lawsuit have anything to do with the four pads that have the limited scope [of work approval]?” coalition member Chris Behrens asked Vest. “Salt Creek obviously has a large amount of money out there. They don’t have permission to actually put up a turbine, they have a permission for the mud mat.”
Behrens went on to describe statements made by Salt Creek Wind’s attorney Amanda James, who admitted during a Tama County Board of Adjustment meeting that took place on Oct. 21, 2020, that the company would be taking a “gamble” by digging the footings for up to 10 turbines without actually having conditional use permits for the full project.
Vest did not respond specifically to Behrens’ question.
As discussion approached the hour mark, Wilson passed out a sample moratorium to each of the supervisors.
“It’s what Grundy County put in effect in 2021 and it remains in effect today,” Winkelpleck said of the sample. “That’s what we’re asking you to do – implement this moratorium in Tama County… Our coalition stands ready to work together with county officials to update Tama County’s land use and industrial wind regulations.”
“We fully intend to review the ordinances, there’s no doubt about that,” Vest replied. “I need to find out from legal advice about the lawsuits that [we’ve] already been talking about.”
Winkepleck and Harkema both then asked who was threatening the supervisors with lawsuits.
“Oh, not Apex,” Vest said. “I look at Apex as being gone. … We will be talking to our attorney this week and find out what our options are in relation to being sued. He’s the same one that worked with Hardin County.”
“We just need some time folks. We need a little time to see where we’re at,” Anderson said. “We only meet one day a week, so, [a moratorium] sure isn’t going to happen in a day or two.”
Several members of the public spoke during the latter part of the discussion, including acreage owner Aaron Knebel who lives in the footprint of Salt Creek Wind’s phase one.
“We were never even contacted [by Salt Creek],” Knebel said. “I ended up calling Salt Creek myself to even get information or details … There’s a lot of people like that. This was pushed through with COVID. They knew Tama County had very minimal ordinances and with COVID, they could push this through. That’s how these wind farms work – they find the weak and they hit it quick.”
A second Tama County resident in the audience who also lives in the Salt Creek footprint made the comment that they were left completely in the dark “until the holes started to be dug.”
“We said no, but our neighbors said yes!” another audience member said from the far back of the room.
“Here today, gone tomorrow, except Tama County residents are not going anywhere,” Winkelpleck said. “This is our home, this our county … We pay taxes in this county, we want to be represented.”
Final comments from the public were made in regards to the number of easements between Salt Creek Wind and non-resident landowners, as well as a comment pertaining to the negative effect wind turbines can have on property values.
The supervisors declined again to take any action on the coalition’s request for a moratorium, but a meeting was set for May 23, between coalition members and Tama County Zoning Administrator Todd Apfel.
In the meantime, both Anderson and Vest stated they would be meeting with the board’s attorney on Thursday of this week while continuing their research into the request for a moratorium.