Windfall for some, irritation for others: Road damage, dust among gripesThe dozens of new wind turbines lining the landscape north of White Lake are highly visible signs of economic and energy development. But construction of the 101-turbine PrairieWinds project and seven-turbine South Dakota Wind Partners project also has left an indelible footprint on the county’s designated haul roads, created dust control problems and caused property damage in the past three months, according to some local residents. Pete and Judy Licht live along 241st Street — one of the main haul roads used for the project by Wanzek Construction, based in Fargo, N.D.
By: Melanie Brandert, The Daily Republic
WHITE LAKE — The dozens of new wind turbines lining the landscape north of White Lake are highly visible signs of economic and energy development.
But construction of the 101-turbine PrairieWinds project and seven-turbine South Dakota Wind Partners project also has left an indelible footprint on the county’s designated haul roads, created dust control problems and caused property damage in the past three months, according to some local residents.
Pete and Judy Licht live along 241st Street — one of the main haul roads used for the project by Wanzek Construction, based in Fargo, N.D.
They have dealt with ruts in the roads, the noise of heavy truck traffic at 5 a.m. and assurances of dust control efforts.
Licht, who moved from Oak Ridge, N.J., to north of White Lake after he and his wife paid a visit there 26 years ago, said Wanzek has done a poor job of taking care of the roads and containing the dust.
“I came out for the freedom and we are gradually losing it,” he said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it mostly likely is.”
Wanzek Construction is building the PrairieWinds and SDWP projects for Basin Electric of Bismarck, N.D. Crews are getting closer to finishing the construction of the turbines, but contractors will still be on site until mid-February to March to ensure the turbines are ready for use.
As of Friday, 99 of 101 PrairieWinds turbines were standing and 33 of the 65 that are completed with electrical and mechanical components had passed all tests, according to Paul Telehey, Basin Electric construction coordinator. If the wind doesn’t slow workers, he expects the other two turbines to go up this weekend.
As for the Wind Partners’ seven turbines in southern Jerauld County, one is being set up. Telehey anticipates those will be finished by the end of the month.
Prior to construction, Aurora County entered into a haul-road agreement with Basin Electric on Sept. 7. It stipulated that Wanzek was responsible for satisfactory maintenance of haul roads during construction when hauling took place. Once a haul road’s use is no longer needed, the contractor must restore the highway or road to the condition that existed before construction in an inspection report.
Several special conditions were cited in the agreement, including dust control with magnesium chloride in front of farms on all county roads 500 feet from each approach of a residence; a bridge on 241st Street must be replaced with two 70-foot-long culverts with the total cost to Basin at $24,000; asphalt crossings must be replaced at the end of the project with asphalt patching; and the county can enforce a reduced speed of 45 mph on 370th Avenue from 252nd to 244th streets when it is used as a haul road.
One of the clauses required that the road in front of Russ Krumvieda’s home and feedlot be sprayed with the dust-control substance. He said he had to spray water on his road three or four times.
“They said they were coming and nobody showed up,” he said, adding he was told to keep track of how much water he used. “That was the last I heard of that. Nobody came around and said, ‘Hey, what do we owe you?’
“For as many trucks that went by, they could have fixed the roads back up.”
Arnie Jelinek, director of business development for Wanzek, said the company has spent money on the substance to control dust and it seemed to work well. When roads were dusty, Wanzek employees spread water on them. He was unaware of any Wanzek offers of reimbursement to landowners.
County Highway Superintendent Roger Konechne said some roads have held up well, while others haven’t. The worst damage occurred to haul roads on 243rd Street, 379th Avenue, 370th Avenue and 241st Street from the contractors’ offices on 370th Avenue to 377th Avenue, he said. On 370th Avenue, soft spots and big dips in the road occurred.
“It’s tough to know what is going to happen to the roads when they start something like that,” Konechne said of the construction project.
One bridge with guardrails on 377th Avenue, a township road, was destroyed by a cement truck that didn’t stay on the haul route in late fall. Wanzek paid for the cost of a new culvert, which was $7,000 to $8,000, and the county installed it, Konechne said.
Signs of property damage are evident with a county road sign down at 241st Street and 377th Avenue. Greg Kroupa has dealt with having several flat tires and blowouts on his vehicles. One of his gates and a post near 239th Street and 370th Avenue were knocked down, and Wanzek built a temporary curve to negotiate the intersection. His mailbox — with a valuable piece of mail inside — was run over and he had to weld it back together himself.
Konechne said he fielded complaints about dust control and called Roger Gillen, a Brosz Engineering representative who served as a liaison between the county and residents and Wanzek and Basin. When Konechne noticed problems with roads, he notified Gillen. He thought it seemed as if dust control problems were being taken care of quickly.
A few days after Christmas, county highway workers who were removing snow also handled that task for Wanzek, which paid the county at $37 a mile, Konechne said.
“Wanzek agreed to pay us to level them out so it would be easier for us to do snow removal,” he said. “They agreed to put new blades on our machines when we were done.”
But Konechne acknowledges that a lot of work needs to be done to bring the roads back to their original condition this spring.
“At times, they could have done better,” he said of Wanzek’s road repair performance. “They don’t have to blade a road like my county guys do.”
Jelinek said Wanzek tried to repair problem areas the best that it could so the road remains in as good, if not better, condition. He was unaware of area landowners who had flat tires.
“Safety is our No. 1 concern for the public and any one of our employees,” he said. “A damaged road, it’s a safety concern. We take that very seriously.”
Wanzek will investigate a concern about roads, dust or damage if a landowner brings it to the company’s attention, Jelinek said. Some type of an agreement is worked out with the property owner, and Wanzek tries to address it on a case-by-case basis, he said.
One of the landowners who signed an easement with Basin Electric takes issue with how landowners who received payment for a grassland easement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also getting royalties through easement agreements with the Bismarck utility.
USFWS decided to relinquish 25.65 acres of land in Aurora and Brule counties on which it had a grassland easement, according to the service’s decision dated Nov. 16 in the Federal Register. Such easements were in place for waterfowl protection areas, and six PrairieWinds turbines were built on that land.
Kroupa claims taxpayer money was used to pay landowners for those grassland easements, which are permanent agreements.
“You can never turn a blade of sod. You can’t plant a tree. You can’t put (in) a food plot for pheasant hunting,” he said. “It is to be left that way.”
Kroupa disapproves of landowners also getting royalties from easements with Basin.
“Why does that allow them at taxpayer money to double dip and to continue to receive that money off those six turbines?”
Krumvieda, who did not sign an easement agreement with Basin, disagrees with how grassland easements were released without penalty.
The landowner or previous landowner would have been given a one-time payment from the USFWS for the easement, said Mike Bryant, Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager. USFWS found waterfowl habitat to replace the portion that was relinquished in Wilbur Township in southeast Brule County, with Basin and USFWS paying that landowner $53,408 for that grassland easement.
“It’s a way for us to continue to protect the same acres of habitat yet allow wind energy to go ahead, especially in areas where we feel the impact would not be excessive,” Bryant said.
Kroupa takes issue with the process that Basin used to enter into easement agreements with neighbors before the project was approved. He claims that a Basin representative made some of his neighbors believe that he had agreed to give Basin access to his land when he hadn’t.
“There are seven turbines that three landowners have at my expense,” he said.
Ron Rebenitsch, Basin Electric project manager, disputed the claim.
“It certainly would not be our intent to do so,” he said of the potential for misrepresentation.
Kroupa also disputes the number of turbines that were to be built on his land. He said he had a contract with Basin for 13. In mid-November, he noticed he was missing one and learned that it was moved across his fence onto his neighbor’s property.
“I’m going to lose $4,000 a year times 30 years,” he said. “That’s $140,000 that they gave to my neighbor.”
Several issues arose during construction that prompted a number of turbines to be moved to their final locations, Rebenitsch said. Those issues include locating where the best wind is, wetlands, cultural resources or environmental factors, he said.
In addition, landowner easement criteria that prohibited turbines from being within 500 feet of a property boundary also affected the placement of turbines and some landowners, Rebenitsch said.
Basin staff had some idea of where turbines would be located, but didn’t know the actual placement when leases were signed, he said.
“Frankly, I’m puzzled,” Rebenitsch said. “One of the things we tried not to do was tell landowners if they were going to get turbines or where they would be until we knew where we were going to put them. This is exactly the type of issue we wanted to avoid.”
Landowners also have expressed concern about accidents involving construction traffic.
Aurora County Sheriff David Fink said two property damage accidents occurred involving two cement trucks, and his office investigated another accident in that area. No citations were issued.
Fink said he has not received any reports about accidents causing damage to private property. He isn’t surprised that the roads are in tough shape, given that it’s a construction site.
“When you’re going over them with heavy equipment, they’re going to have damage to them,” Fink said.
Landowners have also dealt with other inconveniences, such as fences left open allowing livestock to get out and inability to get around to their fields because pilot cars were halting local traffic for trucks hauling heavy equipment. Licht noted he has picked up garbage that has blown off the office site a couple of miles west of their house down the hill to their property.
Once construction is finished, Wanzek will bring a crew out to repair the roads and restore them to pre-construction conditions, Jelinek said. Any temporary roads to accommodate wide-load vehicles will be removed.
“They will make the final decision when we are completed with the project,” he said of the county. “We do our best and try to keep as many people happy as we possibly can.”
In just a matter of weeks, the blades of the turbines will be spinning. Pete and Judy Licht will see roughly 20 turbines from their deck on the west side of their house — a view that neither will enjoy once they’re operating.
“I don’t like them,” Judy Licht said. “They’re too close.”
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