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Wind farm project thrown in doubt

Petition could mean just one person will decide project’s fate

Staff writer

Any one county commissioner can now kill a proposed wind farm.

A protest petition against development of a proposed wind farm in the southern portion of Marion County was filed Monday with the county clerk’s office.

If the 64-signature protest petition is validated, county clerk Tina Spencer said, state law would require a 3-0 vote of the commission to approve a conditional use permit.

According to the law, if a protest petition is validated, a resolution adopting a conditional use permit “shall not be passed except by a favorable vote of at least 4/5 of all of the members of the board of county commissioners.”

Commissioner Dianne Novak has publicly agreed with objectors’ contention that proper notice of a 2016 change in zoning regulations was not given to property owners.

County commissioners had different views of the ramifications of the protest petition Tuesday.

“That’s the way the statutes are written, so at this point that’s all they can follow, if it is valid,” commissioner Kent Becker said. “I don’t think there’s anything more you can say about it until we find out if it’s valid and go from there.”

Commissioner Randy Dallke offered similar sentiments.

“It is a process that’s been followed by the rules,” he said. “The planning and zoning commission went through their proper process. It’s been passed to us. We’re following procedures. I don’t know exactly what all affects this. I don’t know if lawyers have to get involved with this. I don’t know the rules. I hope (county counselor Brad) Jantz can find some time for this.”

As for the 4/5ths vote, Dallke wondered what would happen if one of the commissioners made a motion to postpone any vote until a five-member commission was seated in January.

Novak said she was surprised opposition to the wind farm had reached this point and she hadn’t really thought about what would happen next.

“I’m on the fence,” Novak said. “I know there are a lot of people in support of it, but I’m on the fence, still searching and trying to find the answer.”

Novak said she didn’t know how she would vote.

“If I vote no, half the county is going to hate me,” she said. “I will have to do my shopping out of the county. If I vote yes, I’m going to have to do my shopping somewhere else.”

She said she wanted to know more about how the wind farm would affect county residents.

“I don’t know if I can vote the right way,” Novak said. “I really understand the desperation of all the people who support it and I really understand the desperation of the people who are against it.

“I really didn’t think it was going to get to this point. I thought once they hired a lawyer it wouldn’t get to this point.”

Opponents of the wind farm have repeatedly voiced their objections to county commissioners since February. A conditional use permit application was approved by planning commissioners on a 4-2 vote June 10.

The company, based in Wayzata, Minnesota, last year purchased the former Windborne Energy project, originally launched about 10 years ago.

Spencer said the next step would be to verify the 64 signatures on the petition. Amy and Jeffrey Soyez are two of the signers. Amy Soyez is an independent candidate for county commissioner.

To be valid, the petition would need signatures of at least 20 percent of property owners within 1,000 feet of wind farm boundaries. If fewer than all owners of a property sign, only the percentage of the property owned by signers will be counted in determining validity of the petition. Signers had to identify the name of the recorded owner and the property.

Spencer said she wasn’t sure how soon signatures would be verified or when the permit application and protest petition would come before commissioners.

“I think the petition will be verified quickly, probably by the end of the week,” Spencer said. “At this point I’m not sure if it will be on the commissioners’ agenda until July 1 or July 8. If it’s verified and valid, it will still come before them for some type of decision.”

Opponents earlier filed a petition in district court seeking a restraining order preventing Expedition Wind from beginning construction. At a hearing in Geary County, judge Steven Hornbaker declined to hear arguments but said he would issue a memorandum ruling. No ruling has been issued yet.

Last modified June 26, 2019

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