Wind farm officials emphasize safety

Published 10:15 am Friday, April 16, 2010

Safety was the main theme of a meeting Thursday for landowners involved in the Bent Tree Wind Farm project.

For instance, even though some work will be done on landowners’ private property, they aren’t allowed on the construction site. If they call ahead and ask they may be allowed to see some parts.

“This is your land and we respect that,” said Bent Tree construction manager Tim Shugart. “You can be on public roads, but please do not drive on access roads.”

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Crews will be digging large holes for foundations and want landowners to be aware of the dangers involved.

“I just don’t want anyone hurt,” said Ted Francois, who deals with the developing of the project. “This is an exciting thing but there’s many things going on.”

The purpose of the meeting was to inform landowners of the changes they will see in the coming months. The meeting of Alliant Energy representatives, construction staff and landowners took place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Albert Lea Senior Center at Skyline Plaza.

About 100 people attended the meeting. The main speakers were Shugart and Ted Francois. Francois emphasized that safety will be a big part of the project.

“Safety is absolutely key to this project,” Francois said. “We had almost no injuries on our last project.”

Wind farm to boost local economy

Minn. Hwy. 13 is going to be jammed

Francois also said that work has already begun and more work will start Monday. People may not notice the work being done because it is mostly moving dirt and delivering rock to access roads and the main site near Hartland.

“This is the kickoff,” Francois said. “We’ve signed two contracts, and they will be out there digging before long.”

Ames Construction of Burnsville got the contract for civil work. That includes moving dirt and making and changing roads. Boldt construction of Appleton, Wis., received the contract for the concrete needed for the foundations of the turbines. The other bids not awarded yet are for the erection of the turbines and for the underground cable work.

“We’re starting immediately,” Francois said.

They hope to have 122 turbines up and working by March 2011. Francois said he wants landowners to know that Alliant, Vestas and the construction crews want to work with them to make it a better experience.

“We feel we’re here as guests,” Francois said. “Things will come up and please call us with problems.”

Francois mentioned that any problems that will arise can be brought to any crew members and they will make sure things get taken care of. He also talked about road restoration and payment for crop damage.

“When we’re done we’re going to make sure we get it back the best we can,” Francois said. “We want to make people satisfied when it’s all done.”

Francois also let landowners know that there will be an exasperating amount of traffic for the duration of the project. For each of the 122 sites, there will be about 55 trucks of gravel for the access road, 50 trucks of concrete and two semis of steel for the foundation as well as trucks hauling the pieces of the 11 cranes that will be used and parts of the turbines.

Landowners and all travelers on Minnesota Highway 13 and Interstate 35 will need to have patience, he said.

Though there will be an immense amount of traffic, the project will have positive influences on the community as well, he said. While the project is being built, it will bring about $40 million directly and indirectly to the community, as well as the taxes they will pay each year after the building is done, he said. There will also be 300 to 400 workers in the area for the duration of the project.

One question was about where people can apply for jobs related to the wind farm.

Shugart answered that the best place to apply is with unions. They will not hire people at the construction site.

Another question was about dust control with all the traffic on gravel roads. Shugart said at their last wind farm project they had about eight water trucks that stayed near construction areas. He said they will try their best to control the amount of dust but also that locals should expect some.

Francois said the construction crews will start on the south side of Manchester and work their way north on both sides of Highway 13. One audience member asked why they’re building a wind farm at the same time as major work on Highway 13.

“Well, we wanted to start last fall and it didn’t get approved by the state,” Francois said. “MnDOT did push back the project, but we don’t want them to push it back any further.”

Francois said he didn’t think Highway 13 could wait any longer for an upgrade. He did mention that they would try to get a lot of their work done before MnDOT starts on July 12.

“I’m glad the old road will be there to bear the brunt of this project,” Francois said.

He also said they are working with Freeborn County Engineer Sue Miller to make sure there are transportation plans for all trucks.

“We’re committed to taking care of the damage we cause,” Francois said.

Other questions were about whether crews would be working on Sundays. Shugart said they usually have a six-day work week with Sunday off, but weather issues could cause them to work some Sundays and miss other days.

Every day at the main site, crews have safety meetings and watch the weather. If there is a lightning strike within 30 miles or if winds are too blustery, they cannot work that day.

Francois said most people don’t realize how enormous these turbines will be when they are erect.

“They’re taller than a football field standing on end,” Francois said.

He said a football field is about 360 feet total, including end zones, and the turbines will be 397 feet tall, which is also taller than the Statue of Liberty.

The turbines are Vestas V82 and 1.65 megawatts. This wind farm project will amount to 200 megawatts, which can power approximately 50,000 homes. The total weight of each turbine is more than 350,000 pounds. There will be 26 miles of access roads built in the county. Alliant Energy is investing more than $400 million in the first phase of this project. The second phase — another 200 megawatts — has no start date yet as they are waiting for approval from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Anyone with questions about the project is encouraged to call Alliant Energy at (800) 545-3122.