The Marion County Commissioners held a special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, to follow up on a proposed wind farm moratorium brought up the day before at the weekly MCC meeting.
According to Commissioner Dianne Novak, a moratorium would allow for the process to be paused as more information is gathered in order to make an informed decision on whether or not a wind farm would be in the best interest of the county.
Commissioner Kent Becker opened the meeting and updated those in attendance on the wind turbine portion of the meeting from the day before. He said that the room was filled with those opposing the wind farm project, except for the staff from Expedition, the company in charge of the wind turbine project slated to occur in Marion County.
“We, as a commission, have really been in an information gathering time,” Becker said. “We have been through one project already. We already know the ins and outs and the good and the bad of that. Yesterday, we heard mostly from those opposed to the wind farms. We certainly want to give an opportunity to any of the proponents. Evidently, there isn’t any proponents here this morning with us besides Expedition. Since we are still waiting on Mrs. Voth, let’s take a recess until she gets here.”
The meeting eventually resumed once Expedition Winds attorney Patricia Voth arrived. She addressed the group.
“In short, a moratorium in this scenario, is not needed,” Voth said. “It’s not necessary for a couple of reasons. For one, a moratorium does not provide the county with any extra protection that the county does not already have, but it does create some additional risks for the county.”
Voth was unable to clarify what those risks would be in spite of direct questioning from several community members in attendance.
“The project, as communicated with the county several times, has the goal to be open. Marion County regulations are set up to include a process for taking time to receive the information and evaluate the information,” Voth said. “Expedition Winds has continued to be willing to communicate with the county as to what would be a helpful and valuable way to share information.”
Several residents in attendance asked questions regarding other counties, such as McPherson, and their moratoriums. However, Voth either sidestepped the question and changed the subject or else responded without answering the question asked.
One landowner who would be affected by the wind farm if it were to happen asked, “My question was if we get to the point of a moratorium, will the leasing agent ask for their payments back?”
Voth paused and then changed the subject, “And so, a way to think about it is what would a moratorium accomplish beyond what we already have. A way to think about the moratorium is what are we trying to accomplish with a moratorium in light of what we already have in place. There is an additional legal threshold in that once the county has adopted zoning, they are committed to following the zoning process.”
More questions came up regarding gag orders, but again, there seemed to be no clear answers given by the Expedition Winds team.
“All of your questions are great questions to ask when a project has applied for a CUP [conditional use permit] and you are determining what you are comfortable with application,”Voth said.
Novak then addressed Voth.
“I don’t understand why you can’t answer the question as asked,” she said. “I mean it is a simple question. The question is are there gag orders in place?”
Voth answered that it would depend on what your definition of what a gag order is.
“And I actually haven’t reviewed any of that,” Voth said.
Jessi Hopkins Hoel, employee of Expedition Winds, pointed out that it was difficult to be able to research and pull in more proponents on fewer than 24 hours notice. Members of both sides of the argument agreed with that observation.
“I am concerned about the position the county would be in if we were to go the moratorium route,” Commissioner Randy Dallke said. “If we would have to defend this in court, it could be a real strain on this county. That’s just my concern. I’m not saying I am opposed or for it, just that it is my concern.”
Jeremy Loewen made a group statement that had many in the room nodding.
“As we’ve seen the wind farms to the north go up, our eyes have been opened to the fact that the zoning regulations do not protect us sufficiently,” he said. “Before any more wind farms come into this county, we want to be protected.”
No decisions were made in regard to the moratorium. The commissioners stated that they will be using the next several days to do more research.
The meeting ended, and the commissioners went into executive committee.