The Marion County Commissioners were very busy in the meeting on Monday, Dec. 16, with a full docket that caused the meeting to go well into the afternoon. But most of the citizens who showed up and waited for more than hour came for one topic: wind farms.
When the meeting finally got to the official topic of a wind energy conversion system moratorium discussion, it was a full house.
County Counselor Brad Jantz began the portion of the meeting by presenting the rewritten resolution regarding the requested moratorium on any expansion of any existing or any new wind farm that County Commissioner Dianne Novak requested in the commission meeting on Dec. 9. He stated clearly that it did not impact anything with Diamond Vista or Expedition Wind’s current CUPs.
He explained that it is currently worded for at least 120 days, but that number can always be changed based on the situation. The original resolution was drawn up by Attorney Pat Hughes. Jantz updated it for the latest request.
After he explained the changes he made, the commissioners began to weigh in on it.
“I think it is important to us to have the moratorium to give us time to deal with situations in the future that may come up,” Novak said.
“If we put a moratorium up in Marion County, I think it is like putting up a sign saying, ‘We don’t do business with outsiders,’ and I don’t agree with that as a business owner,” Commissioner Dave Crofoot said.
“I understand what you are saying, Mr. Crofoot, but it is not a black and white issue. It took a wind company coming in to our county to show the mistakes we have in our regulations. We look like fools,” Michelle Butts, Catlin Township, said.
Several people in the audience chimed in and nodded.
“It’s not saying don’t come in. It’s saying put a pause on so we can get it all correct things and get it all in order,” Shawn Crabb of Marion said.
Crofoot responded, “It says no. Just look back through the papers about Marion County for the last six months and see how bad we look. I mean part of that is the papers’ faults but still.”
“That’s what we are trying to prevent. Where is the miscommunication? On both sides. As a business owner, if I have a project fall apart, it’s my responsibility to step back and look at it all and see both sides and what went wrong so I can fix it before I take the next customer,” Jerry Mendoza, Wilson Township, said.
In addition to commissioners, there were many others in the room who had opinions and voiced concerns both for and against the moratorium.
Economic Development Director Randy Collett explained that the City of Marion would not be supportive of this or any moratorium, as they have their own planning and zoning commission. A moratorium could impact the city’s process as they deal with their own development.
“I’m looking out for the people. I get a little excited when people say, ‘Oh, you’re against the wind.’ No, I am not against the wind. I am against ignoring what half the county wants and has to say, which is what keeps happening,” Novak said.
Jantz pointed out that he has no preference one way or the other for how the commission decides to go with the moratorium. But the sooner planning and zoning knows how many days they are dealing with, the better. He also emphasized the importance of not having a blanket moratorium without reason just to have it versus having a purpose and specific reasons for it.
“You can do the moratorium now or at any time. I can do it today because we have enough, or I can wait until you feel moved to. It’s on your conscience,” Jantz said.
“What about how Exterra already has people signing leases? Isn’t now a good time, then, to do the moratorium?” Novak asked.
“It makes sense to do it now,” Commissioner Jonah Gehring said.
Novak explained that she felt like they were putting themselves in a bad situation, in general, going forward if they don’t do the moratorium now.
Novak made a motion to do the moratorium. Jantz interrupted politely to clarify a previous point. As soon as he finished, Randy Dalke stepped in and made a motion to not impose the moratorium, stating that the planning and zoning board had been doing a good job looking out for them, and he did not see the need.
“I had a motion on the table already,” Novak said.
Several people spoke at once, and members of the audience became upset and confused. Some members of the audience got up and walked out of the meeting.
“I have no record of you making a motion,” County Clerk Tina Spencer said.
“I was making the motion, and then Brad interrupted to clarify. I said I was ready and was making the motion,” Novak said.
Gehring said, “ I thought you did, too. Playback the recording, and we will see clearly what happened.”
The vote on Dalke’s motion moved forward in spite of the objections, and Dalke, Becker and Crofoot voted in favor of continuing to not impose the moratorium. Gehring was not given the chance to vote. Novak stated she was against it.
“Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, since we saw how the vote turned out,” Novak said.
In other business, the commissioners:
•approved pay for part-time road and bridge employees.
•heard from Goebel about the need for a designated heated bay for washing trucks off and catching the oil and other debris into.
•discussed cost-of-living raises vs. merit-based raises and the pros and cons of both. Nothing was decided for now. The board voted 4 to 1 (Novak voted against) to approve a 1% raise and a Christmas bonus of $150.
•heard from Ricky Roberts about extension office redistricting. The commissioners voted unanimously to keep moving forward with the process and exploring the redistricting of Marion and Dickinson Counties. (A separate story detailing the process is in this issue.)
•heard from county treasurer Jeanine Bateman regarding SCKEDD microloan funds not being used in several years. The board voted to send the amount of $59,533.59 currently in the fund back to the state government since it is not being used by the county.
•heard from Jantz as he presented the resolution he prepared for the planning and zoning commission board. He explained that based on his research, legally every name submitted needs to be approved by the board as a whole even if it is an individual commissioner’s own jurisdictional choice. The board approved the resolution.