By Deb Hadachek Telescope News
All the things you don’t think about.
Upgrades to roads and bridges. Added demolition waste to the landfill. Camper hookups for 250-300 construction workers. Food to feed them.
Those were just a handful of the revelations Marshall County Commissioner Keith Bramhall and Public Works Director Mike Craig shared with Republic County Commissioners in a two-hour meeting November 23 for what to expect if NextEra develops the High Banks Wind project in Republic County in coming years.
While the details seem overwhelming, Bramhall said he believes the wind farms in Marshall County will provide an economic windfall in taxes.
“The economic side is only up, from what I see,” Bramhall said.
While the wind farm development is tax exempt for 10 years, NextEra paid Marshall County $500,000 at the outset, plus the costs to develop roads and eight bridges on a haul route to the construction site, he said. The company will pay Marshall County $400,000 a year for the next 10 years, which goes into a Capital Improvement Fund that may build a new jail, Bramhall said.
In year 11 of operation, the newest wind farm in Marshall County will be taxed like other state-assessed property, and Bramhall said estimates indicate that will generate $40 million in tax revenues to local governments over the next 30 years.
For High Banks wind, NextEra estimates it will pay $100 million in tax revenues between Republic and Washington Counties. Landowner payments are estimated at $115 million.
An older wind farm in Marshall County has a lifetime tax exemption, but NextEra has agreed to pay the county $300,000 a year, which is placed in the Road and Bridge Fund, Bramhall said.
NextEra has yet to present a proposed boundary for the project to Republic County Commissioners. In general the project is expected to straddle the Republic-Washington County line in eastern Republic County.
Options for land have been filed in the Republic County Register of Deeds Office as far north as the Narka and Munden areas, and landowners south of Belleville towards Norway have also heard interest expressed in their regions.
“The west side of the county has irrigation, and the east side may have wind energy,” commented Commissioner Edwin Splichal. A transmission line from the local project is expected to connect to the Marshall County farm.
Bramhall and Craig recently gave Republic County Highway Administrator Ken Robbins a tour of the Marshall County project. Commissioners said they also plan to visit the site personally.
Republic County Commissioners are also on the hunt for an outside legal firm to help the county negotiate the best possible contract with NextEra.
“We want to do the very best thing for the county not just now, but 10 or 20 years down the road,” said Splichal.
Bramhall, who lives at Frankfort, said since the wind farm project was in his commission district, he became the contact person for any day-to-day questions about the project.
Both he and Craig said the NextEra contractor was responsive to any concerns they raised.
“They won’t lie to you, they won’t cheat you, if they tell you they’re going to do something, they’ll do it, as long as it’s reasonable,” said Bramhall of his experience.
The company will designate a haul route and pay to upgrade the roads and bridges along that route to their specifications, he said. Any contractors caught using roads other than the haul route are immediately dismissed, he said.
Bramhall said since he lives near the Nemaha County line, he learned questions to ask in regards to county roads and facilities based on an earlier project in that county. One was to ask for dust control on roads in the haul route.
Another was to consider costs to open a new cell in the local Construction and Demolition site to handle the debris from construction. That includes mats used to stabilize cranes, and wooden spools that hold the transmission lines, he said.
“Bid every bridge as if you’re going to have a contractor build it,” Craig recommended, although Marshall County crews were able to build all but one of the new bridges in-house.
Commissioner Doug Garman said he has received unsolicited emails from Marshall County residents unhappy with the project.
“That’s in the eye of the beholder,” Bramhall said. “If you’re for something it’s great, if you don’t like it you don’t like it.”
Bramhall said because of the height of the towers, he doesn’t believe sound, shadows or the blinking lights on top will disturb nearby property owners. The newest Marshall County project is about 70 percent operational, he said, and expects to be 100 percent operational by December 6.