The Burleigh County Planning and Zoning Commission has rescheduled their public hearing in regard to the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm to 5:15 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Bismarck Event Center.
On Wednesday, three rooms of the City/County Building, located in downtown Bismarck, couldn’t accommodate the hundreds of people – many with testimony in hand – who showed up to the initial public hearing.
After a 45-minute delay and 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 decided to reschedule the hearing.
Chicago-based Pure New Energy USA is proposing to develop the 300-megawatt Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm. Through the project, about 70 wind turbines would be erected in southern Burleigh County, including Morton and Telfer townships, and northern Emmons County in an area that covers 15,000 acres.
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 are participating landowners in the project, so it would be a conflict of interest for the trio to decide whether or not to issue special use permits for the wind farm.
Telfer Township and Emmons County must also go through a permitting process. The Public Service Commission requires local approval before it will approve the wind farm, according to Ray Ziegler, Burleigh County’s building official.
On Monday night, the Burleigh County Commission discussed the upcoming public hearing.
“We’re going to be hearing from folks from a different county,” said Chairman Jim Peluso. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”
Commissioner Brian Bitner said he’s received communication from people living in Minot and Strasburg, as well as Emmons and Morton counties.
According to Bitner, the county recently received a letter from the Three Affiliated Tribes in regard to the project.
“In that letter, the Three Affiliated Tribes has asked us to delay the process until such time so they can complete their own independent investigations there,” he said. “Of course, instantly, I got contacts from landowners who said, ‘Those folks are not coming on my land.’
“I heard … some people were threatening that because of this wind turbine incident, they were going to try to create a DAPL-like situation in Burleigh County over this,” he added. “And I think that would be a serious mistake for somebody to do, and it would be a large cost for Burleigh County.”
Bitner said, to his knowledge, PNE is working with the Three Affiliated Tribes to assess the sites.
The county cannot give permitting authority for the wind farm back to Morton Township, according to Commissioner Jerry Woodcox, who was appointed to the county planning and zoning board, effective Dec. 3.
“We took it on and now we got it, so there’s no out by putting it back on their shoulders,” he said.
The Burleigh County Commission will, ultimately, make the decision on whether or not to allow the wind farm in Morton Township.