Sand Hill residents concerned about the potential for wind turbines and the R-project powerline gathered the evening of February 4th at the Hamilton Ranch in southeast Cherry county.
In addition to local residents, people drove the roads from nearby Brownlee, from up at Valentine and Wood Lake, as well as from Burwell. All appreciated the hospitality of Kort Hamilton, and his parents John and Cindy Hamilton, who provided a warm equipment shed for the meeting sponsored by Preserve the Sandhills.
After ranch country conversation, a supper featured wonderful, home-made soups that were hearty eating on a cool winter evening. There were also fine tasting desserts. Each cook needs to be congratulated on their culinary skills used to prepare food that was enjoyed and savored.
Several items of current interest were then discussed.
Amy Ballagh, a distinct leader of Save the Sandhills and from the north Burwell ranch country, discussed the R-Project transmission line. A key concern is the route which this huge industrial powerline will follow, and the easement process being done by NPPD. She indicated hundreds of pages of documentation associated with an environmental assessment of this project. There are alternate routes southward of the corridor currently selected by Nebraska Public Power District which could avoid many of the problems associated with the current route, including potential impacts on the endangered Whooping Crane, expected impacts on the American Burying Beetle and damage to essential ranchland resources.
Details of this project readily convey that it would be essential in providing a means to distribute power generated by local turbine farm facilities. This would include a proposed turbine farm near the Hamilton ranch where there are known details for a 147 turbine facility, since a means of distribution would be available. NPPD prefers to slight this reality despite multiple instances of records that indicate the R-Project would provide a means where locally generated power could be sent outside Nebraska.
Another primary topic of the evening were the legislative bills being considered by the Nebraska legislator in Lincoln, as presented by Twyla Witt, with ancillary comments.
These bills include LB 504, introduced by District 43 representative Tom Brewer. This is the "Save the Sandhills" bill which would establish a two-year moratorium on any development of industrial wind energy projects within the region, and establish a task force to study the issue.
People were urged to get involved in the legislative process to work to get this bill passed, by either attending the public hearing on March 1st in Lincoln, or to communicate their view via phone call, letter or email to members of the Natural Resources committee.
A couple of particulars of this bill were expressed: 1) on Line 26, it says the region had "three hundred species of birds." Based upon 35 years of personal effort to know and understand bird occurrence in the sandhills region, and as based upon a database of more than 150,000 records starting in 1886, the tally is actually more than 400 species, which is a significant difference. There are also other prior records that occurred as far back as 1857; 2) on line 28 there is a typographic error: it is species not "specifies." It is up to the legislators to deal with this mistake in spelling, perhaps through an amendment; and 3) there are other particulars that can be variably considered.
There is also LB 392 which is a “wind friendly counties act” where counties could receive recognition through the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
The local consensus was that counties should have the option to be "wind unfriendly" and keep turbines out. Another bill to oppose was LB87, as indicated by a member of the group with experience in "net metering" in regards to energy development facilities.
Another item of concern mentioned, based upon a conversation with a Nebraska state trooper in the Neligh area, was shared at the soup supper.
There was an obvious influx of construction workers being paid union wages to construct local turbine facilities that apparently resulted in unwanted and illegal activities. There were several obvious results which were not welcomed in the community.
An appreciated expert on wind turbine development, formerly of Minnesota, Kevin Willert of the Duck-Bar Ranch at Kennedy shared some of his experiences from the northland. "The building process is very ugly," he said, in regards to the massive Buffalo Ridge facility where 1100 wind turbines have been built near his former home, and county. More are planned. "Developers don't care what they destroy," he said. Also shared were his experiences with various noises associated with operational wind turbines based upon their mechanics, leaking oil and other miscellany.
It was obvious that Cherry county residents - as well as so many living in other sandhill counties - need to continue to be active and involved in efforts and decisions made by county planning and zoning boards (since it is readily obvious that notably in Cherry county, decisions have been made that ignore regulatory requirements) and the county commissioners. There have been votes to approve conditional use permits which do not comply with zoning regulations.
A special announcement was made by Judy Rath, who has prepared a new website for the sponsor group: it is preservethesandhills.org. This intent of this site is to share the unique life and times of sandhills residents, and how wind turbine developments will affect the lifestyle.
This Saturday event was a wonderful community gathering, and a special opportunity to realize how special the sandhills are, how people care about a unique land, and hours to realize a true sense of community and camaraderie. It was a time to relax, listen to ranch country conversation, enjoy a supper of unsurpassed quality and then hear about efforts to protect the hills. It was a fine time to gather, just before the onset of calving season.