May 13, 2017

Federal judge dismisses wind company lawsuit filed against Hinton

By Paul Monies | The Oklahoman | May 13, 2017 |

A federal judge in Oklahoma City on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed against the town of Hinton by two wind farm companies affiliated with NextEra Energy Resources LLC.

U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot ruled on a narrow jurisdictional issue on whether Minco Wind IV LLC and Minco V LLC had the standing to challenge a town ordinance. Hinton’s Board of Trustees adopted an ordinance in January declaring wind project equipment within two miles of the town to be a public nuisance.

Friot granted a motion to dismiss sought by Hinton but acknowledged the lawsuit could be refiled or amended.

Attorneys for the wind farm companies had no comment after Friday’s hearing and referred questions to NextEra. The project has not yet started construction.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” said NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner. “However, we appreciate the judge recognizing this is a technical issue and allowing us the opportunity to refile within 30 days so the case can be decided on the merits.”

Hinton Mayor Shelly Newton said she appreciated the judge’s quick ruling and the efforts of the town’s attorney in the case.

“We passed our ordinance under Oklahoma law and they’ve allowed that to stand,” Newton said. “We know we are going to live around them (the turbines) – that’s not the issue. The issue is if we’ll live under them. That buffer will help us grow as we anticipate new housing developments.”

In the hearing, Friot questioned attorneys for the town and the wind companies over which entities “owned the lawsuit” and if they had the ability to sue over the town’s ordinance.

Minco IV and Minco V filed the lawsuit in February but later clarified that a related party, Boulevard Associates LLC, held options to lease land for the wind project affected by Hinton’s ordinance. Boulevard last month assigned the interests to the Minco companies.

“My question for the plaintiffs’ group is, ‘Who’s on first?’ on the day the lawsuit was filed,” Friot said.

Kimberlee Spady, an attorney for Hinton, said it was too late to amend the lawsuit to include a new plaintiff.

“The plaintiffs are playing fast and loose here, executing lawsuits when the parties don’t have an interest,” Spady told Friot. “The town ought to be able to defend a lawsuit that is filed properly.”

Jason Dunn, an attorney for Minco IV and V, acknowledged there were “internal machinations” at the company over which entity held the easements. But he said that shouldn’t stop the case from going forward.

“The landowners who assigned their easements to Boulevard also assigned their discretion to challenge an ordinance,” Dunn told the judge. “Was there some machinations that should have been clearer? Yes. But Minco now owns the easements.”

Garner, the NextEra spokesman, said the company still disagrees with the town ordinance and doesn’t believe the town had the authority to pass it.

“The people of Hinton and Caddo County should have an opportunity to benefit from the good jobs, millions of dollars in tax benefits and landowner payments and economic boost that wind energy brings to the area,” Garner said in an email.

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