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Cherry Co. wind farm proposal gets blowback

A large group of Cherry County residents protested a proposed Sandhills wind farm Tuesday before a meeting in Valentine to advance the project.

The Cherry County Planning Commission was to hear a proposal for a conditional use permit for a “wind energy conversion site,” commonly known as a wind farm, said Joel Mundorf, the county’s zoning administrator. Bluestem Sandhills, LLC, plans to construct the wind farm.

Mundorf said the proposed wind farm would have 30 windmills, each more than 300 feet tall. The farm would take up several thousand acres of the Sandhills, he said. Bluestem did not return a request for comment.

Carolyn Semin heads the opposition group with her husband LeRoy. She estimates the number of opponents to be in the hundreds, from all across Cherry County.

Twice a year, Semin said, she watches cranes migrate over her rural Kilgore home. She also described an eagle’s nest and neighboring wetlands. Geese nest “all over the place,” Semin said, adding that all of the wildlife would be affected by the wind farm’s construction.

Proponents of wind farms say that they produce cleaner energy. Semin said the influx of trucks that would carry the wind turbines, as well as the disruption to vulnerable habitat, would negate the benefit. She added that producing energy to be sold elsewhere wouldn’t be worth the cost of disrupting the unique Sandhills environment.

Semin documented what she sees near her home and showed it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the service’s initial discussions with Bluestem, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service saw the proposed area as “relatively dry,” said Bob Harms, a fish and wildlife biologist.

“At that time, we had less of a concern,” he said.

Then he saw Semin’s eagle nest and many birds, including the sandhill cranes.

“So we’re concerned,” he said.

Along with the migratory birds and eagles, an endangered American burying beetle would be affected by construction, he said.

Not every species is adaptable, Harms said. While many say species will move elsewhere, “there’s not always an elsewhere,” he said.

Semin voiced concern that she and members of her group would speak but not be heard. But Cherry County Attorney Eric Scott said the planning commission does not oppose anyone.

“The exact amount of weight [of voiced opinions] is up to each and every planning commission member as they see fit,” he said.

The chairman of the planning commission, George Johnson, planned to recuse himself from the vote, as his son heads the company that is seeking the permit, Scott said.

Additional information about what happened at the Tuesday night meeting was unavailable as of press time Tuesday.