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By Sandy Schroth

Dust settles on wind farm road issue


November 14, 2019

Sandy Schroth

Explanation • Antelope County road superintendent Casey Dittrich explains issues with an underground permit application on Custer Township land owned by Greg Mullins of Plainview, during the county commissioners' Nov. 5 meeting in Neligh.

Dean Smith of Brunswick presided over his first meeting as chairman of the Antelope County Commissioners last Tuesday, moving to the position from vice chairman after the former chair was removed from office.

Two new commissioners had not yet been appointed, leaving Smith, Charlie Henery and Eli Jacob as seated board members to take care of business.

The board addressed issues related to a road included in the Thunderhead wind farm road-use agreement. Listed on the agenda under the road superintendent's report, the primary issue concerned dust created by heavy truck traffic on the road near the home of Lee and Rhonda Meyer south of Neligh.

Prior to Dittrich's explanation of the situation, Smith disclosed that Rhonda Meyer is his sister. Four Invenergy representatives and Rhonda Meyer sat in the audience.

The road is included in a road-haul agreement with Invenergy and had been upgraded with Sinclair gravel by the company.

Although the road is in better shape than it was, according to Dittrich, it is heavily used due to a wind farm laydown yard, located about three miles west of the highway. He said at the current stage of construction, traffic is more than a hundredfold what it is under normal circumstances. Dittrich said he estimated more than a truck a minute traveling past the Meyer farmstead during an hour he was at the site the previous day.

"Because of the type of material and the type of traffic and the amount of traffic, it has become a serious dust concern to these people and livestock," he said. "The amount of dust is insane."

He said a five-minute conversation with the Meyers had to move inside their house. He also indicated concern for the health of the Meyers' livestock. Although it hadn't yet been confirmed by a veterinarian, he said one calf was suspected to have dust pneumonia.

Supervisor Charlie Henery, who said he had driven the road after the wind went down the previous evening, agreed with Dittrich's assessment, as did sheriff Bob Moore.

Dittrich said the road in front of the farmstead was barricaded, with alternate access used by Meyers. Invenergy built a turn radius for access to the highway on private property to the south, with an easement in effect. Dittrich said it is built to specifications and had been approved by the Nebraska Department of Roads. However, Invenergy's agreement with the landowner is a private easement. Dittrich said right now there is no way for public traffic to access the highway without using the private turn radius.

"The whole thing is wrong right now," Dittrich said. "We fixed the problem but legally, someone can't leave that road and drive through the private property, even though it's a beautiful, wide, milling-covered intersection."

The company had agreed to allow public traffic to help solve the issue, but its legal department now has issues with public traffic, according to Dittrich. In order to change the easement to allow public traffic, Invenergy presented Dittrich with three caveats, a signed agreement from the landowner; an agreement signed by the county attorney; and a document signed by the Meyers, indicating they will not lodge further complaints.

"I don't see why Meyers would ever sign an agreement to that," Henery said.

Smith reminded Thunderhead construction manager Dave Owenby of an August pledge.

"The last time you were before this board I asked if you were going to enforce dust control and you said, 'yes' you were," Smith said. "Either you're not enforcing it, or otherwise, your contractor isn't following through with his responsibilities."

Henery suggested a layer of millings be applied to the road.

After hearing input from commissioners and Invenergy representatives, as well as advice from county engineer, Brian McDonald, an agreement was reached. Invenergy agreed to apply asphalt millings on the road to contain the dust, as well as to move toward amending the easement.

Dittrich called a private contractor who had millings available for Invenergy to purchase. Henery and Smith insisted application of millings start within two hours.

Dittrich also asked that the county retains the final decision on whether Invenergy will remove the millings at the end of construction.

"It won't be solved until they're gone," Meyer said when asked if the plan was acceptable. "But is has to be so we can live, and we won't be sick, and our animals won't be sick."

The board approved 50 underground permits and two access permits for Thunderhead wind farm, on the recommendation of Dittrich and improvements at two sites presented by McDonald.

In addition, access permits submitted by Frank Morrison, on 520 Avenue, east of Royal, and by the Borntragers, on 513 Avenue, northwest of Orchard, were given the nod, as well as an underground permit for Elkhorn Rural Public Power District on 513 Avenue in Stanton Township.

Four mainline valve access permits for TC Energy, one west of Orchard, one north of Tilden, and two northwest of Royal, were tabled pending review.

Underground permits were also tabled for Greg Mullins, who was present at the meeting. Mullins had been given verbal authorization by Dittrich to install drainage tile at the intersection of 856 Road and 528 Avenue, two miles north of the Neligh-Pierce Road. The original application indicated a five-foot depth and Mullins had obtained permission from the owner of the property where the water drains. The drainage tiling project has been completed, but issues arose after the road superintendent visited the site. Dittrich presented a diagram of the area, explaining tile had been installed within the county right of way, rather than on Mullins' property, and the depth of one portion that lies under the roadway, near the north end, was only 29 inches deep. He was also concerned with the potential damage to the tile while maintaining the road. He contacted Mullins, who complied with a request to refile the two applications, due to the project's location in two separate sections.

Henery questioned potential liability the county could incur due to drainage onto another landowner's property.

"Actually, you are improving our road," Henery said to Mullins. "What you did isn't all wrong, but I think we need to check into it to make sure the county isn't liable."

Consideration of the applications was tabled, pending review by county attorney Joe Abler. Mullins agreed.

In other business, the commissioners:

~Approved an administrative plat, as presented by Liz Doerr, zoning administrator, for Andy Bossard, about two and one-half miles southwest of Tilden;

~Heard Doerr's monthly zoning report, including many applications for wind turbine sites;

~Approved an application to move a building, from Clearwater to Blaine Township, presented by Dittrich. The building was moved Oct. 24 by Klabenes Construction, with application submitted after last meeting;

~Approved the rehire of Sara Parks at the Law Enforcement Center, requested by Moore;

~Heard county treasurer Deb Branstiter had issued 43 distress warrants, for a total of $23,590.89 in delinquent personal property taxes, as of Oct. 31, which were turned over to Moore for collection within the next nine months; and

~Heard from Henery that fire and law enforcement agency applications are due Dec. 1 for Region 11 Emergency Management Agency mini grants.


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