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WECS Ordinance Approved | Journal of the Independence Bulletin

BRANDON – On Wednesday, May 29, Buchanan County Supervisors held the third and final public hearing to amend the Wind Energy Conversion Systems (WECS) Ordinance at the Brandon Area Community Center.

Comments were heard from those for and against the ordinance’s provisions and limitations. The comments mainly related to property rights and land use.

The WECS Ordinance odyssey began in the summer of 2022 when Environmental Health and Zoning Administrator Chad Beatty presented the Buchanan County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission with a proposal by Next Era Energy to potentially erect 67 to 70 turbines wind farms in southern Buchanan County. Per existing protocol, Beatty also presented the project to the Buchanan County Board of Health.

In July 2022, P&Z discussed changes and recommendations to the WECS Ordinance so that it is similar to the recent Solar Ordinance recommendations regarding the application process and requirements.

On August 29, 2022, the Board of Supervisors approved the proposed WECS Ordinance by a vote of 2-0 (Ohrt & Shonka). On September 6, 2022, the second reading was approved 3-0 (Ohrt, Gissel and Shonka). On September 12, 2022, the third reading of the ordinance was defeated 3-0 (Ohrt, Gissel and Shonka), with the request that Beatty work with P&Z to eliminate the Manufacturing District requirement and increase the CSR level to 71 CSRs.

P&Z discussed the requests, but chose to resend the original amendment proposal on November 14, 2022 to the Supervisory Board. In a 2-1 vote (Ohrt & Gissel, yes / Shonka, No) the amendment was rejected.

In the meantime, while waiting for the project to proceed, Next Era Energy has contacted landowners in the area about the easements.

With the November 2022 election, a new board of supervisors was installed in January 2023. John Kurtz and Dawn Vogel joined Clayton Ohrt on the board.

In February 2023, Next Era Energy made a presentation directly to P&Z and held three public meetings (Brandon, Rowley and Jesup) in the following months.

In May 2023, the Board of Supervisors voted to institute a moratorium on any WECS projects for one year.

P&Z began breaking down the ordinance into sections and revised them carefully in the fall of 2023. Other individuals and groups attended meetings with the supervisor and P&Z to share concerns, both for and against, for several months.

In December 2023, P&Z forwarded the hearing minutes and ordinance recommendations to the Buchanan County Prosecutor’s Office. In January 2024, the County Prosecutor’s Office responded. In March 2024, they reviewed those recommendations, and in April 2024, the Supervisors again reviewed the proposed ordinance. The supervisors also renewed the moratorium on the WECS project for another year. By the end of April 2024, the supervisor set public hearings to be held in May.

At the May 15 meeting, the supervisors voted 2-0 (Kurtz & Vogel, yes / Ohrt, abstaining) but to remove the security fence requirements and add to the shadow flicker verbiage.

At the May 22 hearing, Supervisors voted 2-1 (Kurtz & Vogel, yes / Ohrt, no) to “adopt WECS, including removed security fence requirements, added shadow flicker verbiage, and added zoning district verbiage after end of decommissioning”.

At the May 29 hearing, the supervisors voted 2-0 (Kurtz & Vogel, yes / Ohrt, absent excused) to adopt the WECS Ordinance.

(All minutes of Supervisory Board meetings and WECS Ordinance proposals were published in the Journal Bulletin in the form of Legal Notices.)

“I think the process was completed professionally, fairly, and we as a county went above and beyond and listened to the concerns of all Buchanan County residents,” Beatty said. “To my knowledge, no other county or city ordinance review, proposed amendment or adoption process has been as detailed, recorded or open to the public with this type of resident involvement or attendance as this one. I have not attended or witnessed an entire ordinance read aloud to the public as I have in the past three weeks.

“Ultimately, this process was selected and voted on by the Board of Supervisors on August 21, 2023 to appoint the 9 members of the P&Z Commission to review and amend the existing WECS ordinance, which was previously adopted on September 14, 2020. This process, using our county zoning department and volunteer board members saved Buchanan County taxpayers thousands of dollars. The WECS discussions and review process began nearly two years ago on June 7, 2022, and many people have spent countless hours researching, listening and learning about best practices to help regulate an industry that, collectively , has multiple pros and cons. I believe our P&Z committee took this project very seriously, put the appropriate time and energy into it, which produced an amended local ordinance that will ultimately protect both WECS applicants and Buchanan County from potential future nuisance complaints.

“I will add,” said Beatty, “while many claims have been made about the vision of Buchanan County that has changed recently, when our county seal is a picture of the single-bottomed plow, and this vision of being a agricultural county existed. since 1974, I believe that the current Supervisors made the right decision and supported the proposals brought forward by the appointed P&Z Commission. These changes do not or will not remove wind turbines from Buchanan County, but will ensure that WECS will potentially be built in places where all Buchanan County residents and their properties are protected.

“I would like to personally thank the following people for their extra time over the past two years,” said Beatty, “Amber Lorenzen, Kris Wilgenbusch, Josh White, Kathy Cole, Joan O’Loughlin-Good, Tracy Franck, Mike Robinson, Elena Schmitz , Wendy Sperfslage, Judd Taylor, Gary Waters, Bronson Wierck and the three Board of Supervisors, John Kurtz, Clayton Ohrt and Dawn Vogel.

Many longtime supporters of the WECS Ordinance were pleased with the outcome.

“I am so grateful for the dedication of the P&Z Commission and the Board of Supervisors,” said Bonnie Urban. “Both have been entrusted with protecting Buchanan County farmland for generations to come, and they all take that job very seriously. I’m not against true clean energy, but I am against the damage that turbine fields will do to rich farmland, even extending to neighboring fields and the neighbors themselves. I don’t think they’re meant for Buchanan County.”

“It’s been a long and busy year fighting to keep Buchanan County’s rich soil to be used for food and fiber,” said Chris Urban. “I salute the P&Z Commission and the Supervisory Board for trying to keep it that way. Wind turbines covering half the county are not the answer”

“From everything we know about the dangers of wind turbines – especially fires that cause contamination on other people’s land,” said Mike Urban, “I just want to thank the BOS for supporting the reasonable restrictions imposed by P&Z and really all concerned citizens our people. county, spent much of their time working. Many of us had to put our lives on hold for an entire year. But this result was worth it.”

“I think P&Z, as citizens of Buchanan County, were better qualified to do what INRCOG was going to charge over $25,000,” Bob Cue said. “Congratulations to the Board of Supervisors for their leadership in putting the county and its resources and the health and safety of its citizens first. Thanks also to the more than 800 people who signed the petition, those who placed ‘No WECS’ signs in their yards, and those who attended meetings in support of P&Z’s recommendations.”

Not everyone agreed with the decision.

“I think the decision taken shows that the county government is socialist,” said a local farmer. “Supervisors tell landowners what they can use their property for. Is not correct. It disrespects people and rejects the potential for an economic boost.”

“It would have been more appropriate to wait until all three supervisors were available to vote,” Diana Muchmore said. “With a ‘drop zone’ of 1.5, the (WECS) ordinance makes all cell phones and other communications towers non-compliant. … We all need electricity.”

Other views are published as columns and Letters to the Editor in today’s Bulletin Journal.