Iowa Public Information Board dismisses turbine-related complaints against Tama County

By: - July 22, 2022 9:27 am

A group in Tama County opposes the construction of new wind turbines. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Tama County Board of Supervisors did not violate the state’s open meetings laws as it dealt with backlash from an anti-wind-turbine group in recent months, the Iowa Public Information Board decided Thursday.

A member of that group, Janet Wilson, alleged the supervisors have stifled public participation, attempted to prevent residents from recording their public meetings and declined to discuss the turbine ordinance with members of the coalition as its own agenda item.

She sought an order from the board to force the supervisors to broadcast video of their meetings, move the meetings to a larger venue that can accommodate more people, keep better notes of the meetings and reprimand the supervisors for a perceived lack of notice of their May 16 meeting, during which the supervisors reaffirmed a zoning ordinance that governs the construction of wind farms.

That meeting is the subject of a pending lawsuit that another member of the Tama County Against Turbines coalition, Richard Arp, filed against the supervisors to prevent new construction of wind turbines in the county.

Arp alleges that the supervisors’ vote in May violated state open meetings laws because there was insufficient notice that the board would be voting on the ordinance and that it did not hold a public hearing to solicit input from residents, which is often required for zoning ordinances. He wants a judge to temporarily halt new turbine construction in the county.

The supervisors, through their attorney, dispute the claims and argue that the lawsuit was too late, according to court documents. The suit was filed June 23, more than 30 days after the May 16 vote, which the supervisors say violates a limit imposed by Iowa law. They further argue that Iowa law gives them immunity from such claims.

It’s unclear when the lawsuit will be resolved. The supervisors have asked for a dismissal. A hearing to consider a schedule of how to proceed is set for late August.

The coalition formed in March in response to a proposed wind farm that, combined with another recent wind farm that is under early construction, has the potential to triple the number of turbines in the county to more than 180. Members of the group have regularly attended the supervisors’ meetings since April and have asked the board to:

— Increase the minimum distance between new turbines and buildings and property lines.
— Further restrict the turbines’ noise.
— Consider the input of residents whose homes lie in the shadows of turbines, which can suffer from a slow, strobe effect.
— Relegate wind farms to less-productive cropland.

The three supervisors voted unanimously to recodify their existing wind turbine ordinance in May.

Members of the Iowa Public Information Board voted unanimously on Thursday to dismiss Wilson’s complaints against the supervisors.

The supervisors, in their response to her complaints, said they did not, in effect, restrict recordings of the meetings and that they didn’t anticipate such large attendance for one of them, when about 90 people attended but there was seating for 45.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.