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Burleigh OKs permit for wind project

Burleigh County commissioners approved a special use permit for a

36-tower Nextera Energy wind project in the rural Wilton area.

The approval came on a 4-1 vote Thursday, against the wishes of the Crofte Township Board. Commissioner Mark Armstrong voted no.

A Public Service Commission permit for the project is still pending.

The city planning staff recommended the permit because it met county ordinance standards. In the southeast corner of the project, one tower was struck from the plan and three others were moved to twice the distance required from non-participating homes.

Crofte Township Officer Terry Thompson said a majority of property owners who live in tower project area were opposed.

“The (township) board recommended that you do not pass this,” he told the commission.

Thompson said the township’s biggest concerns dealt with noise and lowering property values.

Scott Scovill, director of Nextera Energy Resources LLC, said the company wants to start work on the wind farm in early 2012 and finish by the end of the year. He said at the meeting, “We hear the community. We hear the concerns and we try to accommodate them as best as possible.”

Commissioner Doug Schonert said he found it difficult to vote against the township. “But I do believe this is bigger than a township issue,” he said. “This is bringing industry into our area. … It brings $1 million a year income to that area now plus the tax base.”

Armstrong said the county should side with the local jurisdiction and not impose its will. He said Nextera gave faulty data about the project to the PSC in the state application and said he would not support the wind project.

Nextera is the first wind tower company to be approved under the county’s new wind ordinance.

Scovill said the 36 towers planned in Crofte Township and 25 towers in Ghylin Township would combine to create 100 megawatts of power. He said a buyer of the power is still being decided.

Scovill said approval of a special use permit is also pending from Ghylin Township, which has its own zoning authority. A public hearing will be held 7 p.m. on Oct.11 at Fiddlesticks Cafe in Wilton.

The county commission also approved its final 2012 budget after no residents testified against it. Commissioners agreed to staff a fourth person to help with a larger workload and fund a county veterans service office at a total cost of $90,000.

The extra office space is still being studied. Veterans services officer Mark Landis said with commission approval, the new office would be built in the northeast portion of the City/County Building. The budget allows for

7 1/2 new jobs – one in emergency management, two in the sheriff’s office, two in the highway department, 11/2 in social services and one in veteran services. They will cost $320,000 more.

Some $51.8 million will be spent to run the county next year. Increases will be applied to the general fund, road department, social services and jail upkeep/construction, said Auditor Kevin Glatt.

Property taxes levied for the county will be $15.96 million, about one-third of the budget. Other county income comes from user fees (sheriff services, licenses, special assessments) highway gas tax, state aid distribution, 911 fees, state and federal reimbursements for social service programs.

Workers will see a 3 percent pay increase and a 2.5 percent pay hike for average step increases, costing the county $550,000 more. The county also saved by switching its health insurance to the North Dakota Public Employee Retirement Fund.