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Wind permit reconsideration shot down

ST. PAUL – They got no support from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in St. Paul on Thursday, but Goodhue County residents and other concerned citizens are not giving up in their fight against AWA Goodhue Wind.

Mary Hartman, of Rochester, said she’s looking into taking things into her own hands and suing the wind development company since the PUC didn’t take any steps to stop AWA Goodhue’s project from continuing.

“I expected them to take the cowardly way out and they did,” she said of the commissioners.

Hartman brought up the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which allows anyone with strong interest in protecting land, water or air to develop a lawsuit when they feel activities are interfering with their enjoyment of natural resources.

The PUC originally approved a site permit and certificate of need for a 78-megawatt wind project in Goodhue County over the summer. Thursday’s hearing was scheduled after petitions for reconsideration were submitted from several opposing parties, including Goodhue County, Coalition for Sensible Siting and Goodhue Wind Truth.

While each group has pointed out varying concerns surrounding the wind project, Goodhue resident Kristi Rosenquist said they’re all fighting for the same basic idea – local control.

“I think if the Goodhue County ordinance was upheld as it should be, it would resolve all of the issues,” Rosenquist said, adding that the only thing the ordinance doesn’t address is the issue of an avian and bat protection plan.

Otherwise, the county ordinance gives guidelines on setbacks, electrical issues and noise standards, all of which have had citizens concerned.

“I’d like to be able to sleep at night in my own home,” Rosenquist said of the disturbances she expects she would endure from the noise of wind turbines.

Since the Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 not to reconsider its approval of a permit for AWA Goodhue, opposition groups are prepared to take their fight to the next level – the appellate court.

Because of a misunderstanding with filing deadlines, Goodhue County, Goodhue Wind Truth, Coalition for Sensible Siting and Belle Creek Township ended up filing with the Court of Appeals before even knowing of the Public Utilities Commission’s final decision.

“And the court of appeals came back and said, ‘Listen, we’re going to technically dismiss your case. Once the Public Utilities Commission rules – if they rule against you – basically you just re-submit your appeals,” explained Dan Schleck, attorney for Coalition for Sensible Siting.

Both the Coalition for Sensible Siting and Goodhue Wind Truth groups intend to re-submit appeals and Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher said he will ask county commissioners at their next meeting whether or not he should move forward with appealing.

“The commissioners had originally wanted to wait until we had a decision from the PUC. They really only authorized that early appeal to keep that opportunity open,” Betcher said. “In respect to their original comments, they should have another chance to think about it.”

While concerns over eagles’ nests, noise pollution, shadow flicker, stray voltage and other issues have been swirling around the AWA Goodhue project for months, those will no longer be addressed like they were at the PUC meetings.

“The appellate process is about whether or not the PUC did the right thing and followed state laws in making their decision,” Schleck explained. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the project.”