The Rice County Planning Commission approved Conditional Use Permits for two wind turbine projects Thursday night, amid a torrent of public opposition to the projects ranging from alleged harm to wildlife to adverse health effects.
The projects still need final approval from the Rice County Board of Commissioners before construction can begin.
Scores of residents, a vast majority from Northfield, also claimed the projects were too close to adjacent properties – and the county’s role was not to approve something that will benefit one while harming many more others through land devaluation. But planning commission found it hard not to approve projects that met the standards and ordinances already in place for wind turbine projects.
“We spent close to a year on the county ordinance regarding turbines,” said Vice-Chair Kim Halvorson about the Spring Creek project. “And with that in place, we need to treat the landowner fairly and move the project forward.”
The project sponsored by Spring Creek LLC proposes two turbines be built in the southeastern corner of Northfield Township. The Northfield Planning Commission did not endorse the project – however, the Northfield City Council did on Tuesday, sending the project on to the Rice County Planning Commission.
It is now in the hands of the Rice County Board of Commissioners for final approval.
The Spring Creek project passed on a 4-1 vote, with three members absent from the meeting. Citizen Representative Ben Miller voted against approval, citing concerns over the lack of information.
“I think we need more review at this point in time,” he said. “There is not a lot of harmony in the room, and so I think more information should be evaluated before we make a decision.”
The other approved project, by The Gro Wind LLC – a pair of 326-foot-tall commercial wind turbines also in southeastern corner of Northfield Township – was put on hold in early November when a resident of Northfield Township challenged the county, claiming they were not notified of a public hearing hosted by the Rice County Planning Commission, according to court documents.
According to county ordinance, property owners in incorporated areas within 500 feet of the proposed site require notification directly, in writing. Additionally, notice of the hearing is required to run in the newspaper.
A judge found in the residents favor, and Rice County officials were served with a Writ of Mandamus on Nov. 19. Similar to an injunction, the mandamus stated the city did not adhere to the ordinance, and forced Rice County officials to re-issue individual notices to properties near the proposed site.
The Gro Wind project was approved 4-1, with the sole dissenting vote again coming from Ben Miller. He stated again that there was not enough information to make an informed decision.
But the Gro Wind project required something extra: The planning commission wrote in a condition requiring the turbine be shut off during certain times of the day, to avoid casting a shadow on specific plots of land. That additional condition brought the total to thirteen – ranging from tower and equipment color to the burying of power lines and lighting regulations.
Both the Spring Creek and Gro Wind projects hearings were continued from Nov. 4. The Spring Creek project had been tabled to hear opinions from the City of Northfield, while the Gro Wind project was tabled due to the aforementioned legal entanglements.
“We should take the Northfield recommendation for now and leave it to the [Rice County] Board of Commissioners for the final decision,” said Commissioner Jeff Docken.
The Gro Wind project had even more detractors, due to its unusual placement in the middle of a wooded area.
In a letter to the Rice County Board of Commissioners in early November, Northfield Township board outlined their concerns with the proposed wind turbine project. While Northfield township is in favor of wind generation “[I]n areas that are appropriate for this type of project,” it does not believe the proposed site fits that definition.
The township has several issues with the chosen site, expressing concerns about Gro Wind LLC, possible health risks and the placement of the turbine in a wooded area next to a ravine.
“We are not aware of this being a common practice,” the letter read. “[C]utting many trees and installing wind turbines would change the landscape dramatically.”
But again, the planning commission cited the current ordinance compliance by the projects, and said it was not its place to judge if a plot of land was “too odd” to have a turbine built on it.
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