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Wind farm opponents seek county support

The St. Croix Health and Human Services Board will look into health concerns raised by residents of the Town of Forest related to a proposed wind farm in that community.

For the second time in several months, a group of Forest Township residents filled the board room at the Health and Human Services building in New Richmond to ask for help.

The HHS Board had previously agreed to send a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services asking for additional study of the possible health impacts of wind energy projects.

Opponents of the Highland Wind Farm project in Forest Township, proposed by Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC, say that people living near existing wind farms have suffered varying health impacts ranging from headaches, sleep deprivation and hearing loss.

In a response from Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades, the state is relying on three previous studies on wind farms. All of those studies indicate that the impact on a person's health is non-existent if proper setbacks are followed, Rhoades wrote.

Wendy Kramer, public health officer for St. Croix County, admitted there is a great deal of controversy related to the health impact of wind turbines near homes.

Forest resident Brenda Salseg said state rules require a minimum 1,250-foot setback from existing homes. At least one industry recommendation calls for a minimum of a 1,640-foot setback from homes, she reported.

If the 41 Forest turbines are allowed to be constructed, Salseg said, it's likely that some residents will have turbines too close to their home and their family's health will be in jeopardy.

"This is serious stuff," she said. "This could become a health emergency in St. Croix County."

Salseg said she also expects more wind farm proposals in the future, which will have an impact on other parts of the county.

HHS Board Chairman Fred Horne said he will distribute the information that Forest residents are circulating concerning possible health effects and the board will discuss any future action at its meeting in August.

If the group chooses, Horne said, county officials could present testimony about health concerns as part of the upcoming Public Utilities Commission hearings in October.

The Wisconsin PUC will make the final determination about whether the Highland Wind farm will move forward. The Forest project is greater than 100 kilowatts in size, making the state agency the one with final say in the matter.

The Highland project was smaller than 100 kilowatts when it was first proposed, but local opponents worked hard to recall Forest Town Board members who were supportive of the project. The new town board eventually rescinded the required approvals, but then developers increased the size of the project to bypass the local approval process.

In other business, Kramer reported that St. Croix County has confirmed that there have been 70 whooping cough cases throughout the county in recent weeks. The cases range among people ages 6 through 55.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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