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Meeting room overflows, public hearing gets rescheduled

A large crowd, many intentionally wearing red, filled the Tom Baker Room, plus two other rooms, in the City/County Building in downtown Bismarck Wednesday evening for a public hearing. The hearing, on a proposed wind farm, was an hour late and abruptly halted due to technical issues. It is rescheduled for a later date in a larger venue. Above, seated in the front row, are Durant Schiermeister, left, of Emmons County and Jayce Doan, right, of McKenzie.
Tom Stromme, Tribune

The Burleigh County Planning and Zoning Commission had to reschedule a public hearing in regard to the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm due to a larger crowd showing up at the City/County Building, located in downtown Bismarck, than it could sufficiently hold.

More than 150 citizens filled three rooms of the venue Wednesday night during a meeting that was initially delayed 45 minutes while commissioners tried to figure out how to properly accommodate all the people who showed up to make their voices heard on the project.

After two failed attempts at broadcasting the meeting, which was held in the Tom Baker Meeting Room with police presence, into the two overflow rooms, commissioners made the decision to reschedule the public hearing.

Public notices need to be published for two consecutive weeks prior to a meeting, by law, so the earliest the public hearing will be, now, is Nov. 29.

Burleigh County Commissioner Doug Schonert, who is also a member of the planning and zoning board, said, in his 24 years in office, he’s never witnessed a bigger crowd at a meeting.

“We want everyone to have their say. I was told by several that they want to speak. They were coming and they wanted to speak,” he said. “I don’t suppose they all will, but I would guess we’re probably going to have 30 or 40 people get up and speak, or more.”

Schonert said the board will need to limit citizens’ time to speak to three to five minutes, and if the meeting gets too long, the public hearing will be carried over into a second night.

Burleigh County Commissioner Brian Bitner, who is also a member of the planning and zoning board, said he felt it was necessary to reschedule the public hearing, even though it was “embarrassing” to have to do so.

“We have a responsibility to the public that the public has access, completely, to public hearings,” he said. “And I think that if even one citizen is not able to hear it or be involved, we’re not meeting our responsibilities.”

Chicago-based Pure New Energy USA is proposing to develop the 300-megawatt wind farm, known as the Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm.

Through the project, approximately 70 wind turbines would be constructed in southern Burleigh County and northern Emmons County in an area that covers 15,000 acres. The project would be 7 miles wide and 8 miles long, and located approximately 15 miles from Bismarck.

Last month, the Burleigh County Commission agreed to assume Morton Township’s permitting authority for the project, to avoid a conflict of interest at the township level.

All three of the Morton Township supervisors – William Nicholson, Brian Dralle and Daymon Mills – are participating landowners in the project, so it would be a conflict of interest for the trio to decide whether or not to issue a special use permit for the wind farm.

The project is driving a wedge between neighbors, because for every property owner in favor of the project, there is at least one opposed to it.