Richard Samuelson changed his position and the resulting outcry – from two fellow County Board members and opponents of the proposed Goodhue Wind project – has left him feeling caught in the middle.
“I will not be held hostage for my thoughts and beliefs,” the Goodhue County commissioner said Friday. “It’s just something to be considered.”
The point for consideration: Samuelson wants the county to revert from its stance on setbacks for commercial wind turbines – over a half mile from those not participating in a wind project – and enact universal noise standards instead.
He thinks it would be a fair compromise between project opponents, who have cited wind turbine noise as a major health concern, and project developers, who have said the setbacks would effectively end their project.
But some people have raised questions about the commissioner’s motives for the change. They have expressed concerns that it could hurt the county’s efforts to advocate for its recently passed ordinance.
The problem, they say, is that the commissioner supported those setbacks at an October County Board meeting, giving the deciding vote to an ordinance that ultimately could delay a state decision on the Goodhue Wind for several months.
Now, as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission votes Tuesday on whether to reconsider its decision to conduct further research on Goodhue County’s wind ordinance, it is faced with the added complication that a majority of county commissioners no longer support the law – and have sent letters to the body saying so.
“It makes it look like we don’t know what were doing – like down here, locally, we can’t seem to get it together,” said Commissioner Ted Seifert, who voted in support of the ordinance.
Samuelson and Commissioners Jim Bryant and Dan Rechtzigel all sent letters to the state energy regulator early this week arguing against the setback and instead writing in favor of universal safety standards.
But Seifert and Commissioner Ron Allen – both supporters of the setback – have accused Samuelson of a deliberate case of post-election amnesia.
Samuelson’s opponent in the November election, Jeff Hommedahl, advocated for 10-rotor-diameter setbacks like those the county ultimately passed. To curry favor with voters in his district, Seifert and Allen said, Samuelson supported the same thing.
“Evidently, Richard thought he had to support the setback because his opponent did,” Seifert said.
But Samuelson said his change of heart had nothing to do with the election, but came out of a desire to find a middle ground for the project that has pitted supporters and opponents – often neighbors – against each other for more than two years.
“I’m just looking for a compromise position to keep the county out of this long, drawn-out process,” he said.
Reached Friday, Rechtzigel said the new majority opposed to the setbacks on the County Board would probably not lead to an updated ordinance anytime soon, though he said he would continue to make his position against the ordinance language known to the state.
“The board did what it did,” he said. “We’ll just have to see how this plays out.”
Meanwhile, county staff will prepare to advocate for the ordinance at the planned series of administrative law judge hearings. The fact that the ordinance no longer has majority support will make no difference in the county’s case, according to Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher.
“The only official action that the board has taken is to adopt the ordinance and also the vote to intervene,” he said.
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