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Judge sets aside Springdale wind farm lease for further state study

A judge has set aside a state land lease for a proposed wind energy farm in south-central Montana, saying regulators failed to consider the full impacts of the 79-megawatt project.

The ruling sends the lease back to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for further consideration.

Neighboring landowners had sued the DNRC after it leased 640 acres of state land near the town of Springdale last year to Coyote Wind LLC for construction of up to eight wind turbines. Another 36 turbines would be built on adjacent tracts of private property.

State District Judge John McKeon in Helena said in his Oct. 5 ruling that the DNRC did not adequately consider the cumulative impacts of the turbines, among other shortcomings.

DNRC director Mary Sexton said Tuesday the department was still reviewing the decision, but there were three possible options to move forward.

First, the department could conduct a supplemental environmental impact study that addresses the deficiencies raised in the judge’s ruling.

Second, the agency could come out with a new proposal that includes changes in state laws dealing with wind energy that have taken effect since 2005, when this proposal was written.

The last option is for the DNRC to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Sexton said a decision to appeal must be made within 60 days of the ruling, and the agency plans to decide upon a direction by then.

DNRC officials will talk with Coyote Wind about the options, but ultimately “it is our decision,” Sexton said.