Prior to the Marion County Commission acting on a recommendation from its planning and zoning board to approve a conditional use for a wind farm being developed in the south-central part of the county, some questions were raised regarding the process at its July 1 meeting.
In providing the commission with information about the steps necessary to make a decision on this CUP at the July 8 meeting, Sharon Omstead, director of planning and zoning, Pat Hughes, attorney for the county on wind farm projects, and Russ Ewy, consultant for the planning and zoning board, offered guidance.
Commissioner Randy Dallke started off by asking what’s next?
“We know what planning and zoning has done (which was the recommendation for approval) and we have both been through this before, so I have procedural questions,” he said.
Dallke explained that if the commission signs the CUP, there still won’t be the payment in lieu of taxes, also known as a PILOT, or the road maintenance agreement, or RMA, in place.
“Procedurally, does (National Renewable Solutions in charge of managing and developing the Expedition Wind Farm project) have to be done with the CUP first? Or could we have the PILOT and RMA before we sign the CUP, or are we tied to certain regulations that need to be followed?” Dallke asked.
Hughes responded by saying the decision will need to be made on the CUP and development plan.
“That decision could be what the planning commission recommended or to do something different that could be a modified approval, deny the CUP or send it back to the commission. Those are going to be your options,” he said. “I understand that is what you will be discussing at the next meeting.”
Hughes also said the way it’s structured, the other agreements come after the CUP is approved because if it’s not approved there’s no point in having those agreements.
“(NRS-Expedition Wind) can’t proceed with construction without having those agreements in place,” he said.
In other words, if the commission approves the CUP, there will be a window between that approval and the time prior to commencing with construction where the commission and NRS will need to come to terms with the ancillary agreements.
The CUP won’t give NRS the power to start construction, he added.
Another concern Dallke said was the RMA because it was a big issue throughout the entire wind turbine project in the northern part of the county.
Dallke said that having an engineer onboard now, it’s something he and the commissioners need to discuss.
“(Brice Goebel, the county engineer) hasn’t been questioned about this, but it’s a decision we need to make, and then we would work with him on it. Maybe he could become our ‘Road Police Patrol,’” he said.
However, Dallke added that Goebel hasn’t been approached about taking on this additional challenge.
Hughes said: “What I would expect is that if what happens next week is that (the commission) vote to approve the CUP, there will be an executive session to talk about the negotiation of the road maintenance agreement.”
Commissioner Dianne Novak said one of her concerns was with the Diamond Vista-Tradewind Energy PILOT agreement.
The county, she said was treated unfairly compared to other counties with the same company making $500,000 to $1 million a year, and Marion County is receiving about $200,000 annually.
The second concern, Novak said, was with the road maintenance agreement and using Kirkham Michael’s again for this new project.
In asking Pat Pelstring, president and chief executive officer of NRS, which will manage and develop the Expedition Wind Farm project in the newest proposal, Novak said, is that he was interested in the county engineer rather than Kirkham Michael overseeing those roads.
Novak said her thought is that the people of Marion County shouldn’t be paying its engineer to “police” roads. But, rather it should be the wind farm company paying the bill for this.
“Where do we stand on the protest position?” Novak asked.
Ewy said: “Monday was the close of the two-week protest petition window, and I believe there were 34 protests filed with the Marion County clerk and affected about 58 different properties
“Of those 11 were within the 1,000-foot notification buffer that would count towards the 20 percent threshold which would ultimately decide voting requirements.”
The calculation, Ewy said, came to just over 6 percent of the area of that notification boundary filing the protests.
“We failed to meet the 20 percent threshold for the three-quarter majority,” he added.
Commission chairman Kent Becker requested clarification on the protest petition asking if it were a “non-issue” at this point, and Ewy said it was.
Another question Hughes said the commission should consider deciding on is with respect to public comment because there is no necessity for it.
A public hearing regarding the wind farm project was held with the opportunity for those in favor or opposed to be heard, he added.
“I think one of the things probably everyone would like to know is what your procedure will be on public comment (next week)?” Hughes said.
Becker said: “We have been through the hearing process at the commission level, the planning and zoning level, and there has been adequate time for everyone to express whichever direction they are leaning.
“Personally, I would like to know public comment when the commission goes through the process,” he said.
Dallke and Novak said they were in agreement.
Another concern Dallke said was with payments to schools and other permits already proposed.
On all the Doyle projects, Tina Spencer, county clerk, said there were signed agreements on road agreements and PILOTs.
Novak said she hadn’t seen any signed agreements.
Hughes said he wanted to make sure the county avoids an appearance that what happens with the CUP is dependent on what monies are voluntarily offered.
“What I am concerned about is not whether there is an intention on the part of the applicant,” Hughes said. “What I am concerned about is whether we have integrity to the process.
“And, there is a question about the integrity to the process if what’s happening is a decision is being made in response to promises being made that are not the natural consequences to the project.”
Dalke said the commission is concerned about what’s best for the county.
The overall area, which includes the original Doyle CUPs, and the new CUP with expanded portion, is about 20,000 acres.