OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners this week heard that sound and infrasound created by wind turbines could impact the health of people living near them.

Gilbert Burnett of rural Edna shared with commissioners DVDs that contained presentations from an audiologist who has studied and written peer-reviewed papers on potential health effects from wind turbines. He also mentioned research by a professor who teaches at a medical school. 

Commissioners are researching a proposed wind development by German utility RWE between 19000 and 8000 roads and between Meade and Douglas roads. Commissioner Lonie Addis is against wind development, and Commissioners Brian Kinzie and Cole Proehl want to research the matter before deciding if they support it. 

Brandon Hernandez, an RWE representative, has told commissioners the wind development would have between 50 to 75 turbines and generate 200 to 250 megawatts of power. The turbines could be 500 feet tall at the tip of the blade, according to Hernandez, although that height and the number of turbines are in question. RWE is collecting wind and weather information and will use this data to help determine height and the number of turbines, Hernandez has said.

A 2020 filing with the Southwest Power Pool, which will receive electricity generated by the Labette County wind farm — if it’s developed — shows the turbine project has a proposed in-service date of Aug. 1, 2023, with a commercial operation date of Dec. 15, 2023. The project would generate 251 megawatts of power. If the turbines generate 2.2 megawatts each, this would mean RWE would install 114 turbines in the footprint of the wind farm. The power would travel to the grid via the Neosho-Delaware 356 kilovolt line, according to RWE’s filing on the power pool’s generator interconnection queue. RWE had leased 129 tracts of land totaling 17,312 acres. These represent the leases filed in the Labette County Register of Deeds Office. There are likely other leases outstanding that have not been filed because the four most recent filings were signed by property owners in 2020.

Addis said he agreed to allow Burnett to speak on Monday because he created a successful business from his experiences with health effects related to indoor air quality. Burnett developed a company, Dust Free, in his garage. The Texas company now has 150 employees.

Burnett said he had frequent illnesses that eventually were traced to a gas leak in the house. This increased his and his family’s sensitivity to dust, pollen and mold, according to the company’s website.

Burnett, the son of former Labette County Commissioner Woody Burnett, said he tried to cram as much information into his short presentation to commissioners as he could.

“Because I truly believe that worldwide with the thousands of wind turbines that there are that after 15 years we didn’t really know what is there about those turbines that causes people to be dizzy or nauseated. I didn’t think it was just all in their head,” Burnett said.

He said he read about illnesses that the wind industry had written off to hypochondria, or people letting emotions make them sick. 

“And we know that can happen. We know that’s real. We know that happens,” he said.

Alec Salt, who teaches at the Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Otolaryngology, St. Louis, presented a paper in Rome in 2010 about the inner ear and how it picks up air pressure from the vibrations of the wind turbines. 

“So it makes a thump, thump, thump. When the sound wave hits the inner ear, the person doesn’t hear it, but the inner ear does. And it’s like seasickness,” Burnett said. “That’s the mechanism that’s making this happen.”

Jerry Punch, an audiologist and professor emeritus at the Michigan State University Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, discussed the health effects of wind turbines in 2019 in New York state. Burnett encouraged commissioners to review the presentations. He said a percentage of people will be impacted by turbines being close to their homes. Others will not be. But he thinks commissioners should understand the impact on the public of sound from turbines so they know how to help the situation.

“You want to know. Because the public depends on you to help guide us through this thing. The public wants to know what is the truth. I think the public also wants to know what are the risks,” Burnett said.

If counties keep doing what’s been done in the past, a percentage of people will experience symptoms ranging from sleeplessness to hearing the turbines spin. There is a lot the commission could do to correct that, he said.

The main action would be separation. He said his research shows 2 kilometers between turbines and people, or 1.25 miles, is the recommendation.

“(Separation) is the only thing you can do to keep that air pressure wave from affecting people because let’s say if you’re outside that distance, you have a much less likely indication of having trouble. If you’re inside that distance you have a much higher percentage risk of having trouble,” he said.

He said the presentations would help commissioners understand the mechanics of how sound could impact health.

“We’ve been told this really is not a big deal. There are no health side effects from wind turbines, but the people that write that statement aren’t being kept awake at night,” Burnett said.

And not being able to sleep is a health issue. He said he understands many issues surrounding wind turbines. He understands landowner rights and that the wind development could generate money for the county and schools. But he asked commissioners what other options were available to them.

“What’s the 30-year vision for this area?” he asked.

Burnett said he is a pilot. He likes anything with a propeller and enjoys watching turbines spin.

“I just don’t want to see some people made sick. … If we can get a house and windmill separated from where people live the problem goes way, way down. Why can’t we do that?” Burnett asked.

He said he read that nuclear fusion could be a couple of years away from a working model to create energy based on research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Commissioner Proehl said he read that research is further away than that.

Burnett said the project is not at a point where it’s feasible to create energy. It does not generate enough power for the power it takes to create the reaction. 

“That ratio’s off. What’s encouraging is the progress that they’re making in getting it that far,” Burnett said.

He said the need for alternative energy is obvious. 

“It’s just a matter of trying to keep it all in perspective,” Burnett said.

Addis told Burnett that commissioners were considering their options. Commissioner Kinzie didn’t ask questions during the presentation.

 

Pipe costs increase

The cost of aluminized pipe used for moving water under roads is going up dramatically because of metal shortages, commissioners heard.

Sandy Krider, Public Works director, said she received two quotes to restore the pipe supplies in the county. The pipe ranges from 8 inches tall to 8 feet tall and in various lengths.

In 2020, the low bid from Welborn Sales in Salina was $90,561. This year, the low quote from Metal Culverts of Springfield, Missouri, was $255,269.25.

“That special bridge budget where this comes out of would total decimate it if we went this route,” Krider said.

She compared the 1-foot cost of the pipe from 2020 to 2021. A 12-inch pipe cost $8.95 a foot last year and $16.15 this year. An 8-foot pipe cost $165.45 a foot last year and $282.45 this year, she said.

Kinzie asked if there was an alternative. Krider said on the smaller pipe the county could use plastic pipe instead of metal. This would require getting something to bind the pipe together.

Krider suggested getting quotes on smaller dimension plastic pipe to save some money. But the county will need the larger metal pipe for this year’s workload.

Proehl said if the commission waits to purchase the price or rebid it the price could go up and quantities could be limited.

Addis asked how the county could afford the pipe, Proehl said “we find money.”

Krider was going to check on how shipping would be impacted by reducing the order from Springfield on smaller diameter pipe and getting the larger pipe. She was also going to check on a banding process to join the plastic pipe together.

 

3000 Road

During the discussion on metal pipe, commissioners seemed to be directing questions to Krider about how close certain pipe was from failing without mentioning a road the pipe was under. Jim Transue, who attended the meeting, asked what road they were talking about.

Addis said he wanted to keep the discussion on topic, which upset Transue, who stood up and began to walk out of the commission room.

Addis asked him to sit down.

“No I’m not going to. You know what, Lonie? I have put up with you guys for a long, long time,” Transue said.

Addis asked Transue what road he was concerned with. Transue said 3000 Road. Addis asked him what he wanted done with it.

“Whatever we can do to fix this road. It is dangerous,” Transue said.

3000 is an old highway that’s paved from the Montgomery County line east to Douglas, though the road is filled with potholes. The county in 2019 tried to fix a mile section of the road, but the base is gone so the fixes are not permanent, Addis said.

Transue said the road has no posted speed limit so it’s probably 55.

“If you go 55 mile an hour on that road, trust me, you’re taking your life in your own hands. And there’s people driving 85 on it,” Transue said. He said people from Oklahoma traveling to work at the refinery in Coffeyville travel that road rather than taking U.S. 166 a mile to the north. “But all I want to do is try to get something done with that road.”

Addis said commissioners would make sure the road got some attention.

After Transue left, Addis asked Krider her opinion. She said the county could do what it did to a section of 25000 Road years ago and mill off the asphalt and return the road to gravel.

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