CALHAN, Colo. – El Paso County residents filed a lawsuit against the Board of County Commissioners, after the board approved changes to a wind farm project in the area.
The company NextEra Energy was granted a permit to build a wind farm near Calhan in 2013. Its original plan had power lines going underground. Last month, the company proposed changes to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners that included rerouting power lines, so that they would be overhead instead.
“These power lines are 130 feet tall, they’re not like a regular telephone pole,” property owner Joan Wilson said. “They’re huge, huge power lines.”
After a 15-hour meeting in February, commissioners approved NextEra’s proposed changes. Opponents want them to reverse that decision. They don’t like the way the meeting went.
“The people who were opposed to those transmission lines, I don’t think that they got their fair share of speaking against them,” Wilson said. “And the Board of County Commissioners went into their meeting, when they came out, you could tell a difference in their attitude. And you almost knew right away, when they walked out of that executive session that they were going to pass this reroute.”
But county commissioners said otherwise.
“We had well over 100, I think 150 people at the hearing,” Commissioner Amy Lathen said. “Our hearing went from 9 am until midnight. We allowed everyone in the room to speak as we do in every hearing, opposition and support.”
In a press release the county said, “The suit challenging the board’s approval of the changes comes under what is commonly referred to as “Rule 106” in Colorado law. Under “106” local land use decisions can be challenged in court on mostly procedural issues. Plaintiffs in a Rule 106 appeal typically argue that the elected officials making the decision did so without following proper procedures and that their decision was “arbitrary.”
The lawsuit does not appear to focus a challenge on the 2013 approval of the wind farm itself. It challenges specifically the February 5, 2015 Board of County Commissioners approval of changes to the original plan. The county believes that the requested changes were a given full and thoughtful consideration, established processes were followed and evidence on both sides of the land use request was considered in making a final determination. The county rejects claims made in the lawsuit and notes a particularly troublesome and erroneous claim that there was executive session involving Commissioners and the applicant. No such meeting ever occurred. However, the county understands that land use decisions often require the difficult balancing of the rights of many different property owners and respects the right of citizens to appeal difficult and controversial land use decisions such as this to the courts through the rule 106 processes.
It is nearly impossible to predict a timetable for court consideration. But if a request for a temporary injunction is submitted, it might be heard in a matter of weeks while a full appeal through the Rule 106 processes could be pending into next year.”
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