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Disappointed with Holliday Creek solar project

As many of you know, the Holliday Creek solar project is breaking ground. As a member of this community who owns land adjacent to the project, I have been very disappointed with how this has been handled. The Holliday Creek project is planned to be built on about 1,000 acres of farm ground in Webster County. Those of us who own ground around it certainly have a right to be concerned.

The environmental and agricultural impact of this project has not been properly analyzed. I am worried what damage the heat and dust from the solar farm could have on crop yield. Equally concerning for all of us in the surrounding area is what impact the project will have on tiling and drainage.

As Palo Alto County Zoning Board Chair Dean Gunderson noted in his June 27, 2021 letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register, “Commercial solar and wind projects may well create problems for farms adjoining a project. Solar projects can obstruct and/or completely eliminate future drainage improvements to some lands.”

The National Agricultural Law Center warns, “Installation of solar modules and trenches could disrupt subsurface and surface drainage systems, and subsurface drainage tiles beneath the development site could be inaccessible for future repairs.” National Agricultural Law Center, Farmland Owner’s Guide to Solar Leasing, p. 12, https://farmoffice.osu.edu/sites/aglaw/files/sitelibrary/Farmland _Owner’s_ Guide_to_Solar Leasing.pdf. Damage to the drainage system could flood out the nearby fields.

Other communities expressed similar fears when solar farms moved into their neighborhoods. For example, residents in an Ohio township expressed concerns regarding a proposed nearby solar farm, fearing their property is being threatened by the runoff and flooding that project may cause. Mackenzi Klemannn, Potential Drainage Problems Concern Birch Solar Opponents, Lima News (May 13, 2021), https: www.limaohio.com/news/459610/potential-drainage-problems-concern-birch-solar-opponents.

Residents there indicated they plan to litigate the matter with the Ohio Supreme Court and point to alleged flooding at other solar farms in the state.

Despite repeatedly hearing environmental concerns, those involved with the project refused to conduct an environmental assessment to actually explore what impact the project will have on the surrounding farming community–on our friends and neighbors. Instead, without any detailed analysis, Holliday Creek asserted to the Iowa Utilities Board it did not anticipate any material effect on agricultural production and uses. Given the risks apparent in these projects, more should have been done. Our farmland is too valuable to be put at risk without greater review.

I am also troubled by whether potential conflicts of interest were fully disclosed by those meant to protect the public’s interest. It is certainly concerning when public officials vote, or even just advocate, on projects where family members may financially benefit from the project moving forward. I do not feel enough assurances were made to the public that no conflicts of interest existed or those with such interests were uninvolved.

On the similar issue of transparency, the decommissioning plan for the project was filed confidentially with the Iowa Utilities Board. The question is what happens when the solar project no longer operates. What happens to our valuable natural resources? Because we have not received a copy of the decommissioning plan, we are left wondering how they plan to wind down operations and bring the ground back up to agricultural use. What will happen with spent panels, both at the farm’s end and when panels need to be substituted or replaced? If the ground is not properly brought back to a useful condition for farming, I fear the value of the surrounding ground may be affected.

I do not believe this project has been handled in the public’s best interest. Far more should have been done to ensure environmental, drainage, and agricultural risks were evaluated and mitigated. While I hope no damage comes to the community or myself, I plan to keep a careful eye on this project going forward. To the extent I need to enforce my rights in court, I’m prepared to do so. Shouldn’t we have done more to ensure that wasn’t necessary? Somebody dropped the ball!

Richard Stark, is a Woolstock area resident and president of Iowa Commodities Ltd. in Fort Dodge.

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