A Rice County judge this week refused to stop a wind turbine project planned for Northfield Township, just southeast of the city.
In his Feb. 8 order, Judge John T. Cajacob found that the outcome of the pending lawsuit wasn’t clear and that more harm would come to the defendants if he were to issue an injunction.
In a Jan. 10 complaint, plaintiffs in the case, Justin and Kristin Stets, Gregory and Nancy Carlson, Gary and Mary Carlson, Joel and Jeanne Pumper, Tom Small and Deborah Loeser, allege that if constructed as planned, the project would devalue their property and cause adverse health effects to nearby residents. The plaintiffs own property adjacent to or nearby the proposed site of the turbines which lies near the intersection of Hwy. 246 and County Road 1.
The project, expected to include construction of two 410-foot wind turbines, was deliberately split from other turbine projects as a way to avoid state oversight, the plaintiffs claim. Rice County, which issued a Conditional Use Permit, doesn’t have authority to allow the turbines, they allege in their amended complaint.
The plaintiffs also claim two of the defendants, David and Jacqueline Hubers, deceived the Stetses and Pumpers when selling off pieces of their farm to the couples and purchasing from the Pumpers a small portion of their property. The arrangement, the complaint alleges, allows the Huberses to site the turbines in a more favorable location near the top of a bluff.
If the turbines are built, the plaintiffs claim they’ll suffer in excess of $50,000 in damages.
The judge’s order doesn’t stop the project from moving forward, said David Hvistendahl, co-counsel for the defendants, the Huberses, Spring Creek Wind and Sparks Energy. The project is currently in the planning phase, said Hvistendahl.
“This is a crucial victory,” he said. “It permits them to continue as planned.”
If Cajacob had ruled differently, the defendants say they wouldn’t have been able to secure financing or tax subsidies amounting to 30 percent of the project.
Attorney for the plaintiffs, Maren Swanson, could not be reached for comment.
And while the defendants say they don’t expect to construct the turbines until late fall or early winter, Cajacob cautioned them about moving ahead more quickly.
“It is not in the defendants’ best interest to erect the turbines during the pendency of this matter. If the court were to find in the plaintiffs’ favor, defendants may be forced to remove the turbines, and incur not only the cost of erection, but the cost of removal,” wrote the judge.
Should the turbines be complete and operational before trial, set for Aug. 1, the plaintiffs can resubmit their motion for a temporary injunction. If that were to occur, Cajacob said he might be more inclined to grant their request.