The dispute over a Lake Minnetonka wind turbine that started out between the owner and city is now a complicated, litigious quarrel involving neighbors and property rights.
For Orono lakeshore residents next to Jay Nygard's home, the 29-foot-tall wind turbine he installed in 2010 is a nuisance. And that, along with other disputes between the neighbors, has sparked eight lawsuits over the past three years — ranging from property issues to Nygard's defamation lawsuit against neighbor Penny Rogers for statements she made at a city meeting (a case that he lost).
This week, another judge ruled in favor of Nygard's neighbors, Rogers and Peter Lanpher, ordering the wind turbine's removal.
"He takes away our freedom and enjoyment in our property," Lanpher said about the turbine near land he and his wife bought in 2004 to eventually retire on. "It's an eyesore."
Another judge already ordered Nygard to take down the wind turbine last year — an order he is in contempt of and will be back in court for on June 11. But the saga isn't over yet. Nygard said Wednesday he plans to appeal the decision in Rogers' and Lanpher's case.
"They seem to think they can control our property, and what we do on our property is their business," Nygard said. "It's my right to have it."
The city has said that the small residential lot, less than a third of an acre on the west arm of the lake, wasn't suitable for wind machines, and denied Nygard's building permit application in 2010. But he built the 750-pound wind turbine mounted on a galvanized pole anyway.
The city sued Nygard and the case made its way through district court to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ruled in Nygard's favor but returned the case to the lower court for further consideration. Last year, a judge ruled in the city's favor and said Nygard's generator endangered public safety. His appeal was dismissed.
Then, in December, the city changed its ordinance to prohibit wind energy conversion systems within any of its zoning districts. Last month, Nygard sued the city for prohibiting the wind turbine, citing a state law that says local government can establish requirements for constructing small wind energy conversion systems of less than 5,000 kilowatts — like his turbine — but, he said, not ban them outright.
City Attorney Soren Mattick said Wednesday that the city remains committed to having the wind turbine removed.
So do Nygard's neighbors. Rogers and Lanpher said it affects their lake property, creating a loud noise and an "unbearable strobe-like effect" in their bedroom and living room when the sun hits the blades.
"This shouldn't happen to us or anyone," Lanpher said. "We're trying to get the peace and quiet everyone deserves."
Hennepin County Judge Susan Robiner agreed this week, ordering Nygard to take the turbine down and pay nearly $8,000 for cutting a sugar maple near the wind turbine that Lanpher said was on his property.
"A reasonable person would conclude that the strobe effect of the spinning turbine on [Rogers and Lanpher's] living spaces constitutes an ongoing interference with [their] enjoyment of their property," she wrote. "The intense flashing light and sound invades their living room, bedroom, and deck. No person should be expected to endure the detrimental effects the wind turbine creates."
Attorney Robert Tennant is representing Rogers and Lanpher as well as neighbors Patrick and Nancy Walsh in five out of eight lawsuits so far with Nygard and his wife. The Walshes' current case, Tennant said, is going through arbitration later this month. The wind turbine, he said, was a final straw in a list of grievances from the neighbors about Nygard — from painting their fences to trimming the tree — claims that Nygard called "ridiculous."
"These people just want to be left alone," Tennant said of the two couples. "They don't want to walk out their door and be bothered."