Marion County Commission approves wind farm proposal

A majority of the constituents at the April 29 Marion County Commission meeting oppose the wind turbine project and asked the commissioner for a moratorium. Patty Decker / Free PressThe Marion County Commission met with opposition from landowners who asked for another week to review a newly proposed resolution on road rights-of-way by Expedition Natural Renewal Solutions that was presented at a special meeting on April 29.

Despite the strong resistance by constituents, the commission voted 2-1 to approve the resolution. Commissioner Dianne Novak was the dissenting vote.

The resolution addresses inclusion of Marion County road rights-of-way within the land area of the proposed wind energy conversion system for Expedition, said Commission chair Kent Becker.

It further stated that wind energy conversion systems, including the transmission lines would be within a road right-of-way, and the CUP application must include road rights-of-way and mandatory notification to the landowners within 1,000 feet of road right-of-way.

“We have been working on this resolution to expedite things, and yet provide the best protection to the county,” Becker said. 

Commissioner Randy Dallke added that the resolution will allow the commission to determine how the road right-of-way is used. 

Prior to the afternoon session, Randy Eitzen said he objected to the commission going into executive session to discuss planning and zoning. 

“This is something that will affect all of us,” he said about the wind farm that ENRS wants to locate in the south-central part of the county.

Prior to the executive sessions, Becker told Eitzen the commission would take his concerns and request under advisement.

But, the commission did go into a 30-minute executive session with their counsel, Pat Hughes, and Sharon Omstead, director of the county’s planning and zoning department. After returning to open session, no action was taken. A second executive session for 15 minutes was approved adding Tina Spencer, county clerk, to the closed-door discussion.

Pat Pelstring, president and CEO of National Renewable Solutions, spoke to the Marion County Commissioners April 29 about the wind turbine project in the southern part of the county. Patty Decker / Free PressPat Pelstring, representing the ENRS, talked about why a resolution was needed. He said he was wanting a resolution from the commission in order to make application for a new conditional use permit after the first CUP wasn’t approved because it was incomplete because more information was needed.

“This came out of conversations with your counsel, Pat Hughes, and Sharon Omstead (director of the county’s planning and zoning),” he said.

“When we submitted what we felt was consistent with the Diamond Vista application (a wind farm in the northern part of the county), it was reviewed and, asked that given the scrutiny, they would like some additional information. A lot of those aren’t generally submitted until the construction time period,” Pelstring said.

ENRS and Pelstring agreed with the determination and believed it was important, too. They are now in the process of setting up a new CUP with the  public hearing in May.

“One of the items was an acknowledgment from the county on the opportunity to put county rights-of-way into both the development plan and the CUP,” he said. “And, we asked specifically whether there was any kind of approval process, but we will defer to your counsel in terms of how we are proceeding on this issue.”

Pelstring said ENRS envisions the commission will have two more times to look and consider approval of any rights-of-way in the CUP. The first after the review of the planning and zoning commission recommendation, and secondly when the roads agreement is completed. 

“In discussions with Hughes, he agreed it is really an acknowledgement that we have the right to propose the use of county right-of-way in the CUP and/or the development plan. It is not meant to be an approval because you don’t have the prospective of the whole development plan,” he said.

Pelstring said he has been working with Spencer on a resolution, and this is something they would like to get done, along with the planning and zoning department prior to moving forward on the CUP process.

When Pelstring talked about a resolution, Novak questioned if a resolution had already been presented. Spencer said there was no resolution presented.

“There is some proposed language and none of that has been gone through with Pat Hughes,” Spencer said.

Becker said the resolution would be taken under advisement with Hughes.

Novak asked why in some cases Pelstring refers to this as a project, and in other cases refers to this as a CUP. 

Dallke asked if the project theoretically had 90 wind turbines, would about seven or eight be on one section? Pelstring said more like four to eight. 

Novak also asked Pelstring if he speaks with Hughes frequently?

As ENRS works through meeting your standards, Pelstring said, there were three conference calls to include Hughes, Omstead and himself.

Novak said: “I would like to see the proposal of roads being requested. I would feel more comfortable.”

One of the opponents of the wind farm, Amy Stutzman asked about haul routes, but was told that would be in the road maintenance agreement.

Stutzman also asked: “Why the rush (to approve the resolution)?”

Novak added that she doesn’t like making decisions in the dark. 

A couple from Aulne, Nick and Lori Peter, were also present, and Lori wanted to know why there couldn’t be a moratorium.

“As a county taxpayer, why not protect me,” she said, adding that she and her husband were wanting to build their dream home.

“We started at $10,000 to $15,000, but we have scaled back on the house because our dream was not living in a wind farm,” Lori Peter said.

Eitzen agreed that all those with concerns would like to see the commissioners put a moratorium on wind farms in Marion County.

“Or if you want to fight a lawsuit, then you will have one by next week,” he said.

Novak also said she would vote for a moratorium at this time.

David Marsh, who lives in the northern part of the county, said he wants to make sure the county gets this right.

“We need to do it right because it’s not a big race,” he said.

As the meeting was about to conclude, Novak told Spencer she wouldn’t sign the resolution, adding that “if (the wind farm) is a good deal today, it will be a good deal tomorrow.”

Spencer said this is the first time a commissioner has refused to sign a resolution, and she needed to talk to Brad Jantz, county counselor, on what to do next. 

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