TOWNS OF FOREST, CYLON -- For many residents of the towns of Forest and Cylon in northeast St. Croix County, the hopes of slowing down the development and construction of wind turbines took one step forward and another step back over the past two weeks.
The step forward came when the St. Croix County Board, at its most recent meeting, unanimously approved a resolution asking state health officials to study the potential health impacts of wind turbines on humans and animals.
Then came the step back. State health officials wasted no time in stating last week that there would be no further studies of the health risks associated with wind turbines.
While that was great news to those heading up the project -- officials of the Highland Wind Farm, LLC -- the area residents who have been opposing the project were not so happy.
“I and the residents of Forest fighting against Highland Wind thank the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors for unanimously adopting the resolution brought forth by the Health and Human Services Board,” town of Forest resident Brenda Salseg said.
But it was the resolution to which Salseg refers that didn’t seem to carry much weight for the state officials.
Salseg and those opposed to the construction of the wind turbines in the area worked through the county’s health department over the course of the past few months to get the resolution drafted and finally approved by the full county board.
Prior to the passage of the resolution, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission gave the green light for Highland Wind to proceed.
The recent decision by the PSC came after more than four years of negotiations, consideration by town of Forest residents and their board, as well as litigation. The Highland Wind group’s proposal is a $250 million wind turbine project scheduled to be built in the area.
With its most recent ruling, the PSC said that Highland Wind Farm had met the conditions set forth by a St. Croix County judge last year and approved the project that, if things go as planned, could be started by the end of this year.
That clearance by the PSC came just before St. Croix County joined other counties that passed similar resolutions.
However, that didn’t have much bearing on the state’s decision.
The county was asking the Wisconsin Division of Public Health to study the potential effects of the industrial wind turbines, most specifically focusing on the potential for sleeplessness, headaches and even anxiety for those living near wind farms.
But in a statement issued last week, Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, wrote, “Based on our ongoing review of scientific literature about wind turbines and health, DHS continues to conclude that levels of noise, shadow flicker, and infrasound measured from contemporary wind turbines do not reach exposure levels associated with objectively-verifiable human health concerns, such as decreased sleep quality or elevated blood pressure.”
“The Wisconsin Department of Health Services statement is just another example of a state agency turning its back on the public health and safety,” Salseg said.
Bill Rakocy, one of the founding principals of Emerging Energies, the company overseeing the proposal of the Highland Wind Farm, had a different take.
“We’ve been closely involved in all aspects of wind development for quite a number of years … and throughout that process we have heard of and looked into the health concern issues from many different perspectives,” Rakocy said.
“Not only looking locally, but seriously, globally, the overwhelming body of evidence from the scientific community does not support any peer-reviewed, legitimate health claims. There’s nothing there to substantiate it.”
With more than 40 wind turbines proposed to be built across the area towns, county health officer Deb Lindemann said in other reports that the county wanted to see the state undertake a serious study of the issue that would provide scientific conclusions on the health impact to humans and animals.
In other words, the county wanted guidance from the state rather than having to rely on smaller studies that have been completed in other counties across the state.
“We don’t have the expertise, necessarily, at the county level, and so we really look to the state in everything we do in public health,” Lindemann said in published reports.
But the state didn’t concur.
Goodsitt said, “DHS continues to work with local public health agencies, legislators, community groups, and the Public Service Commission to assist in evaluating health-related concerns that arise from existing and new wind energy projects.”
Salseg said that description is a copout.
“Instead of supporting quality of life, the DHS chooses to accept questionable literature reviews and skewed studies that appear to support the conclusion that there are no verifiable health risks …,” Salseg said.
Rakocy continued the conversation by saying, “So we find ourselves in a time when budgets are strapped everywhere and this has been examined at different levels and different ways by the state of Wisconsin previously. The idea that it should once again be looked into just doesn’t seem practical. If there was a hint of something that was … a different possibility … I’ve never heard of anything legitimate and I’ve seen so many studies from so many groups done in Canada and Australia and Europe … it doesn’t seem this has any merit to it.”
St. Croix County Health and Human Services Director Fred Johnson said in another published report that the county was simply looking for measurements they could use to weigh the potential for health concerns of those who will have to live near the turbines and to have that information in hand before the turbines are built.
With the state shutting the door on any potential future studies, Johnson’s request won’t come to fruition.
“This isn’t necessarily an issue that is specific to St. Croix County,” Johnson said.
He indicated that the county was simply looking for guidance and more consistent data.
Rakocy agreed there are many opinions about the issue, but agreed with the state in its conclusion.
“I realize there are people who are opposed and I certainly respect their opinions … and we’re all entitled to our opinions. But we’re basing these decisions on scientific fact,” Rakocy said.
“Back in 2012 this was addressed … it’s consistent, and yes we appreciate the fact that the state’s made a decision and that they stood by that,” he added.
Salseg had a simpler solution to the issue: “The DHS could begin a study by simply having staff spend a day in one of the abandoned Shirley Wind homes. I have no doubt real-life exposure to wind turbines would quickly reverse the DHS’s opinion.”