FOREST CITY | The residents of North Iowa and Forest City had the rare opportunity to hear two oral arguments being presented to Iowa Supreme Court justices Monday night.
The oral arguments were heard at the Boman Fine Arts Center in Forest City.
The two oral arguments were on the cases Mathis v. Iowa Utilities Board, and Mathis v. Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.
In Mathis v. Iowa Utilities Board, Bertha and Stephen Mathis and residents of Palo Alto County sought to require Palo Alto Wind Energy (PAWE) and MidAmerican Energy to obtain a certificate of public convenience, use and necessity from the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), before constructing their wind energy project, according to the case summary provided to the audience.
However, the IUB said they did not require a certificate, as the project does not meet the definition of “facility,” which the district court affirmed.
In Mathis, et al. v. Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, Bertha and Stephen Mathis challenged Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors’ wind energy ordinance and approval of PAWE’s construction application for the wind energy project.
The district court ruled in the Board’s favor, saying the Board followed proper procedures.
Attorneys Wallace Taylor and John Murray presented the Mathis’ arguments. Attorneys Emily Willits and Bret Dublinske presented the IUB’s arguments, and attorneys Haley Van Loon and Brant Leonard presented the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors’ arguments.
For the first case, Taylor argued the district court should not have deferred to the Board’s interpretation of the statutory terms, the 170-wind turbine project is considered a facility and the declaratory order issued by the IUB was “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and an erroneous interpretation of the law,” according to Taylor’s filed brief.
Willits and Dublinske, on the other hand, argued the opposite, saying the Board was correct in its interpretation of the law and of the term “facility” and is “supported by legislative action since the Zond decision,” according to their final brief. They also argued the district court was correct in giving deference to the Board’s interpretation of the code and affirmed its decision.
“While we agree the state court should find in this case where deference is appropriate, there are sufficient indicia the Board has the ability to interpret here,” Dublinske said. “I want to make very clear the case does not depend on that. Even if there is no deference, Administrative Procedures Act puts the burden on the appellant to show the action of the agency is invalid and there is nothing in this case that rises to that standard.”
In the second case against the Board of Supervisors, while Van Loon and Leonard argued the district court was correct in determining the Supervisors’ adoption of the ordinance and approval of the permit as lawful, Murray claimed the Supervisors’ adoption and approval were both “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable,” according to the case briefs.
Murray said the Supervisors were arbitrary and capricious in four areas, including a sound study done of the turbines showed it would violate an ordinance that says the sound from the turbines should not exceed 50 decibels, despite the study accounting for 196 turbines with a margin of error of 5 decibels.
“I think that there was actually dispute as to the record and is raised in the brief with respect to the intervener’s concerned credibility and voracity of Mr. James’ study,” Murray said. “Also, the study with respect to James was completely thrown out and they gave all the deference to…their own study provided by the wind companies, all or none. We think that’s arbitrary and capricious of reasonable means.”
Ultimately, the justices heard the arguments from each attorney, 10 minutes for each side and a five-minute rebuttal from the appellants, and then asked the attorneys questions. After the cases for each side were made and submitted, the justices left the court to deliberate and begin writing their opinions, which could take a couple months, according to Chief Justice Mark A. Cady.
“This outcome will then resolve the case not only for the parties but to stand as a legal guidance for others to follow in similar circumstances in the future, and there lies...the importance of our court system and our laws itself,” Cady said.
Cady then closed the evening, thanking everyone for sitting in on the oral arguments and for the community allowing them to use the Boman Fine Arts Center’s stage
People interested in following the case can check the website, iowacourts.gov, every Thursday to find the cases to be filed the following Friday, with the decisions available at any time.