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Cherry County commissioners vote down wind farm

After months of debate over impact on the environment and land, Cherry County commissioners voted down a proposed wind farm Monday.

But a developer of the project said that there’s a chance his group will reapply to erect a smaller number of wind towers in an area south of Nebraska Highway 20 near Kilgore.

“We still think it’s a viable project. There were some technicalities that were the reason,” said Eric Johnson, vice president of Bluestem Sandhills.

With about 80 people attending the meeting at the Cherry County Courthouse in Valentine, Chairman Mark Adamson and Commissioner Tanya Storer voted against the wind farm’s conditional use application, said County Clerk Tom Elliott. The third county commissioner, Jim Van Winkle, abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest: his membership in Cherry County Wind, a landowners’ group that was a partner in the project.

“I need nothing else for Christmas,” said Carolyn Semin of rural Kilgore, who organized opponents of the project and who lives within two miles of one of the turbine sites. But Semin said she didn’t think that Monday’s vote means that the wind farm idea is dead.

Elliott said commissioners asked the company, Bluestem Energy Solutions, for easement clarification in recent days. They also “felt like they were learning some information they would like to know,” Elliott said.

Bluestem had sought the conditional-use permit to build a 30-turbine, $108 million wind farm. At Monday’s meeting, Bluestem Sandhills discussed the possibility of reducing the number of wind towers from 30 to 17 by employing new, larger turbines.

Johnson said the change would allow the elimination of towers nearest to neighbors like Semin and was needed because one landowner had changed his mind about having towers on his land.

He said the change then prompted discussion that the project had materially changed and that a new, amended proposal for a county permit would need to be submitted.

Paul Hammel of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.