County board wants more talk on utility regulation

Workshop opens door for possible ordinance or zoning to protect landowners as utilities eye Lee County


LEE COUNTY – A very preliminary discussion took place Monday around possible ordinances or zoning to give the county some control over the influx of utility projects in southeast Iowa.
The Board of Supervisors held a work session  to discuss the issue and brought in some planning experts from Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, including Jarred Lassiter, senior planner, and Mike Norris, SEIRPC Executive Director.
Board Chairman Garry Seyb said the discussion is beginning because of the recent large projects and proposed projects including solar, pipeline, and wind projects that have had companies’ eyes focused on the county.
Norris said SEIRPC staff aren’t attorneys, but they would be happy to take the lead on the discussion and see how they can help the county.
“What we’re hearing a lot from constituents right now is there is a concern about utilities,” Seyb said opening the discussion.
“It’s been three-fold. It’s been everything from pipelines to solar ,and now we’re experiencing some wind discussion. There’ve been more and more people come to the board and ask what the board may be able to do to program, limit, direct, how those utilities may not be allowed into the county.”
He said right now Lee County doesn’t have anything other than right-of-way and road use agreements for projects.
Norris said the county also has a flood-plain ordinance.
“Lee County did adopt a general plan in 2013 to give the county the ability to do tax abatement when the fertilizer plant was coming,” he said.
That was to allow options for incentives for the county with the fertilizer plant. He said it was a “general plan” in 2013 and not a comprehensive plan due to the sensitivities of zoning requirements that many rural property owners are not in favor of.
“A comprehensive plan gives a municipality of the state the basis to enact zoning ordinances. A general plan does not do that, which is why they went the general plan route,” Norris said.
He said the plan had goal-setting and potential economic development corridors and didn’t do some of the other things that would be done in a comprehensive plan to include land use mapping.
Lassiter was the point person for SEIRPC when Des Moines County set up a wind ordinance. Lassiter went into the finer points of the process that county went through, including options they considered.
Seyb asked if the county would be required to have a comprehensive plan in place before considering a wind ordinance similar to Des Moines County.
Norris said the county wouldn’t be restricting a land use, they would be restricting where something can go.
Lassiter said Des Moines County was unique because they have jurisdiction outside the two-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction of the largest city which is Burlington. He said Henry and Louisa both have countywide zoning in the unincorporated areas and Lee County has nothing in place.
Lassiter said Henry and Louisa address wind through their zoning, so when Des Moines County looked at some regulation, they had to choose between zoning which would give control only in that specific zoned area, or a county-wide ordinance.
Seyb said current contracts for easements are with the owners and not the county.
“What seems to happen is those that don’t want things to happen, they come to the board thinking we have regulatory authority to affect things one way or the other,” Seyb said. “Right now, the board has really zero impact on much of anything other than our own infrastructure, which would be our roads.
“I guess I view the ordinance along those lines. We just set some general guidelines saying you have to be this far away from something x, y, or z. So we would limit not any one person, but certain standards would have to be applied for that contract to take place on that portion of ground.”
Norris said it also gives the county some enforcement such as possibly a bond to ensure things like decommissioning doesn’t get passed to the taxpayer.
Seyb asked if the ordinance is something that could be done fairly quickly, whereas a comprehensive zoning plan is more time consuming.
Norris said that would depend on what the agency was looking for.
“It really is up to the locals on how detailed they want it to be and what the scope is,” Lassiter said.
Seyb said he would like to explore an ordinance because it gives them some ability to affect at least a standard of where things go. He said it also protects all taxpayers from a bonding standpoint, for example, if they sign with a company and that company goes bankrupt then the property owner isn’t necessarily on the hook.
“We would be saying, for example, you have to be bonded to be able to take that down. In other words, you’re not putting it up unless you can take it down.”
He said local property owners may miss that depending on their private knowledge and legal representation.
Board member Ron Fedler said he’s hearing that the landowners want the county to have something in place to protect their land.
Seyb said he’s hearing people say they don’t want the project here.
“An ordinance does not do that. I want everyone to understand that. What it does is just set standards and conditions for how something would be put in. Whereas zoning may say we have planned usage for this and, if you put this here, it could affect our future use and we really don’t want it.”
Lassiter advised the board to keep in mind that zoning and even ordinances are never one size fits all.
Seyb asked that the issue be put on the agenda for the next meeting as discussion only.

Lee County, Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, Mike Norris, Garry Seyb, Jared Lassiter


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here