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Meeting Thursday on windmill proposal in Bigfork

A request to install a 77-foot wind turbine on the corner of Montana 35 and Holt Drive in Bigfork has caused some local interest.

The owners of the property, E.S. of Bigfork LLC, have requested a conditional use permit to install the turbine on the southeast corner of the 1.5-acre property, which is the site of the former North Shore Lanes Bowling Alley. The Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee will hear the request Thursday at 6 p.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church. The committee will make its recommendation to the Flathead County Board of Adjustment, which will decide the issue on July 2 at 6 p.m. Conditional use permits do not go before county commissioners.

The owners – Sandy Clare and Elvira Johnston – plan to have the building be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and ready for move in by fall. Flathead Lake Brewing Co. owner Greg Johnston plans to have beer brewed in the new facilty by fall. A restaurant, Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Pub House, is planned for a spring opening.

The wind turbine would be used for energy production, county planner Erik Mack said. He noted that a conditional use permit is needed because the turbine would exceed the 35-foot height restriction. However, the turbine being viewed as an eyesore couldn’t be used as justification for denying the permit. That line of reasoning could open the county to a lawsuit, Mack said.

Brewery architect Mark Johnson said a wind study has been conducted and the site is ideally suited for a wind turbine. “There’s great benefit to it,” he said, noting that more specifics about the study would be presented at Thursday’s meeting.

According to the permit application, the noise level that would be generated by the wind turbine is 38 decibels, which is the level of a quiet room or library. Normal conversations are about 60 decibels and city traffic is 85 decibels.

According to the Flathead County Planning and Zoning staff report, the wind turbine would be set back from a steep slope on the southern edge of the property. Mack said it is unclear how much of the wind turbine would be visible from Montana 35. Architect Johnson said the wind turbine “will be quite visible” from Montana 35 and Holt Drive.

The property is zoned Commercial Village Residential, a district intended to “provide for several categories of commercial and residential uses within the same development, constrained by the need to maintain intimacy and human scale in a village setting. The overall goal is to preserve the renewable resources and enhance the unique qualities and characteristics of rural communities.”

The Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee is comprised of six publicly elected members and one at-large member who is appointed by the committee on a yearly basis.

Current members are chairperson Shelley Gonzales, Susan Johnson, Joyce L. Mitchell, John Bourquin, James Bonser and Al Johnson. The at-large member’s seat is currently vacant after Sterling Kerr resigned.

From 2010 to 2012, the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee recommended approval of six conditional use permits and the Board of Adjustment approved all six.