FAIRBANK — The Iowa Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a wind energy company previously told to remove three turbines near Fairbank.
The order handed down Tuesday is another victory for the surrounding property owners and the city, which sued the company and Fayette County claiming the turbines just east of city limits violated county zoning laws.
It leaves in place District Court Judge John Bauercamper’s ruling that Mason Wind and Optimum Renewables must take down the three 445-foot turbines they built in 2016 for an estimated $11 million.
Administrators of a Facebook page set up in opposition to the turbine project were quick to praise the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is the end of the line in the appeals process and reaffirms our original argument that these industrial wind turbines were installed illegally,” said the post Tuesday on Fairbank Citizens Against Industrial Wind Turbines Near Our City.
“Obviously this is great news to the citizens of Fairbank, as our city, skyline and quality of life will be restored to its previous state soon,” the post continued.
Attorneys representing Mason Wind and Optimum Renewables declined to comment.
The legal issue centered around the vintage 1973 county zoning ordinance, which lacked specific language to govern the construction and location of modern industrial-scale wind turbines.
County zoning officials defined the towers as “electric and gas transmission and regulating facilities” that did not require a special permit from the board of adjustment.
The city of Fairbank and several property owners immediately sued the county and developers claiming the zoning interpretation was incorrect.
The court had allowed Mason Wind to continue building and operating the turbines after company attorneys said they understood the risk of proceeding while the case was pending.
The turbines were operational when Bauercamper in late 2016 ruled they were actually electrical generating devices that did require approval from the board of adjustment.
The turbines remained operational while Bauercamper’s ruling to remove them worked through the appeals process.
Patrick Dillon, an attorney who represented the private property owners challenging the project, said his clients were happy with the outcome.
“Adoption of ordinances to reflect the change in use, with citizen input, is better than trying to shoehorn in new uses in an existing zoning plan,” Dillon said. “We look forward to quick compliance with the district court’s order.”
Meanwhile, the Fayette County Board of Supervisors has changed its zoning ordinance to avoid similar confusion in the future.
The new ordinance, among other things, requires any commercial wind energy project to get approval from the Board of Supervisors; to be at least three times the tower height or 1,500 feet from any occupied building; and does not allow construction within one mile of an incorporated city without that city’s written permission.