Even with a crowd of about 50 people in attendance, the Goodhue County boardroom fell silent for a few seconds Tuesday as Commissioner Jim Bryant contemplated which way to vote concerning the controversial wind farm issue.
The matter in question was whether the commissioners should authorize County Attorney Stephen Betcher to file an appeal of the Public Utilities Commission’s decision to issue AWA Goodhue Wind a site permit for a wind farm in the county.
Bryant eventually landed on a “yes,” joining Commissioners Ron Allen and Ted Seifert, and thus approving the filing of an appeal by a 3-2 vote.
On July 30, the PUC decided Goodhue County’s wind ordinance need not apply to the proposed Goodhue Wind project and went ahead with issuing a certificate of need and site permit to the company.
Betcher came to the County Board at its meeting Sept. 6 and asked if he should request reconsideration from the PUC.
The board voted 4-1 to ask for reconsideration, with Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel opposing. Commissioner Richard Samuelson said he’d go along with asking for reconsideration, but noted at that meeting that he would be strongly against an appeal if it came up in the future, which led to his no vote this time around.
“I just see this as round two of a battle that’s not going to end and is going to get continually more expensive,” Rechtzigel said at the Sept. 6 meeting.
His prediction came true now that the appeal – which will cost more than $500 simply to file – was approved.
“A lawyer once told me that your odds of winning in appeals court are worse than your odds of winning in any casino in Vegas,” Rechtzigel said.
Commissioners originally thought they would receive the PUC’s response on reconsideration before needing to decide whether they wanted to submit an appeal, but the appeal period expires Sept. 22.
“To me, the process is wrong,” Allen said. “I think the PUC is kind of forcing our hand.”
“Unfortunately, it’s not ideal,” Betcher commented.
The county attorney explained that if the PUC comes back with a reconsideration that is favorable to the county, commissioners can decide to dismiss the appeal that was filed, although initial costs from filing documents and making copies would still have been incurred.
Even though he had originally said at the Sept. 6 meeting he would be against an appeal, Commissioner Bryant’s decision to vote yes at Tuesday’s meeting was made in part by the fact that the dismissal option is still available later.
Commissioners also had the option of waiting to appeal until after hearing from the PUC, but Betcher discouraged taking that route.
“The chance of survival on that would be quite a bit less,” Betcher said, explaining that those in the appellate court would wonder why the county didn’t decide to appeal before the initial deadline of Sept. 22.
The entire appeals process could cost Goodhue County between $10,000 and $15,000 if it’s carried out to the end.
“I’m just wondering how far we’re going to go and how much we’ll spend trying to win an argument I’m not seeing,” Rechtzigel said.
By another 3-2 majority – with Rechtzigel and Samuelson again opposing – the board voted to give Betcher approval to use up to $5,000 from the county’s ordinance enforcement fund to pay for initial appeals costs.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, enforce our ordinance,” Allen said before motioning to approve the use of funds.