‘Striking balance’

Supervisors OK wind farm zoning ordinance amendment

-Messenger file photo
Some of the wind turbines along U.S. Highway 169 south of Fort Dodge turn against the clear blue sky in June.

After months of discussions, meetings and public hearings, amendments to Webster County’s existing zoning ordinance for wind turbine and wind farm development were given the final approval by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

“We are here today to discuss the proposed amendment to the current ordinance,” board Chairwoman Niki Conrad said when opening the final public hearing on the ordinance. “We are not discussing a moratorium banning or prohibiting wind farms.”

She previously told The Messenger she does not believe the Board of Supervisors has the legal authority to issue or enforce a county-wide ban on wind turbine construction or development projects.

Many of Wednesday’s comments from the public spoke about concerns over setback requirements from incorporated areas of the county. Several urged the supervisors to set a two-mile setback from city limits in the county.

Diane Carter, of Fort Dodge, said she owns property in Badger Township.

“My point today is with another shooting in Fort Dodge last night, people will be wanting to move into the smaller towns,” she said. “Keep at least a two-mile setback so the towns can grow. That’s what Iowa was made on — small towns and small farms.”

Mark Crimmins, attorney for the city of Vincent, also wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors to urge them to include a two-mile setback from corporate city limits in the ordinance.

Under the current ordinance — enacted about a decade ago for the Lundgren Wind Farm project in southern Webster County — commercial wind turbines cannot be constructed within 150 feet of property lines; 600 feet of wildlife management areas and state recreational areas; 600 feet of wetlands; or 1,000 feet of neighboring dwelling units.

After several public meetings this spring with input from residents, land owners and project developers, the commission settled on stricter setback requirements that it felt were a compromise between what landowners who are opposing a new project and the project developers proposed. That original compromise included revised setback requirements of:

• 2,500 feet from non-participating parcels of land less than five acres in size

• 2,500 feet from a residential dwelling unit on a non-participating parcel of land greater than five acres

• 1,000 feet from a residential dwelling unit that has a participating residential dwelling owner

The setback requirements proposed also include a minimum of 1.1 times the tower height away from property lines, roads, cemeteries and other structures; minimum of one mile away from state parks, county conservation areas and the Des Moines River; and minimum of 600 feet from United States Fish and Wildlife Service wetlands two acres or greater in size.

During the first consideration of the zoning ordinance on June 6, Supervisor Mark Campbell proposed a compromise by amending the proposed ordinance from a 2,500-foot setback for non-participating dwellings to a 1,800-foot setback from all dwellings, keeping the remaining requirements as proposed. That amended proposed zoning ordinance passed again during the June 21 hearing.

On Wednesday, following the final hearing, Campbell proposed revising the ordinance to include a one-mile setback from incorporated towns and cities, a definition of “tower height,” a change in setback distance requirements for residential dwelling units to include 1,000 feet for participating landowners and 1,800 feet for non-participating landowners, and changing the distance requirements for cemeteries and other structures to 750 feet or 1.1 times the tower height (whichever is greater).

The final revisions were approved and adopted by the board with Conrad, Campbell and Bob Thode voting in favor. Austin Hayek and Nick Carlson both abstained.

“This is a very hard decision,” Conrad said. “Basically, what it boils down to is striking the balance between representing the rights of one set of property owners who want to participate in this project and another set of property owners who vehemently do not.”

Conrad thanked the residents who have spoken during the hearings over the last several months and said that she felt the amendment proposed by Campbell and seconded by Thode succeeded in striking that balance.

“Is it perfect?” she said. “No. But I don’t think there’s going to be anything that we would decide on today that would make every single person thrilled walking out of here.”

Officially, there are no active wind farm development projects in Webster County, though two developers — MidAmerican Energy Co. and Invenergy — have started to approach some landowners in the eastern and northeastern part of the county to obtain voluntary easements for wind turbine construction. That activity led the Webster County Planning and Zoning Commission to look at the zoning ordinance for the construction of wind turbines.

If either of the companies decide to move forward with a project in Webster County, they will have to submit an application for a conditional use permit from the county’s Board of Adjustment. The permitting process also includes several public meetings and hearings for residents to share their concerns or comments.


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