After two lengthy evenings of testimony on the merits of a wind farm proposal – and reasons not to permit it – county planning and zoning commissioners tabled any decision until they meet again Monday evening.
Each of the two nights of testimony lasted 31/2 hours. More than 100 people testified, including officials with National Renewable Solutions, developers of the Expedition Wind project.
The planning commission is considering the company’s application for a conditional-use permit.
Many objectors rehashed the same concerns they had voiced at an earlier public hearing as well as at county commission meetings. They were balanced by a nearly equal number of supporters.
Some objectors made no bones about their stance.
“Only over my cold, dead body will those things cast a shadow on the ground that I walk on,” said Peabody farmer Randy Eitzen.
When protester Tom Britain stepped to the microphone, he read newspaper articles from the early history of the project, which began around 2010 and was sold to NRS last year.
In one of the articles, lawyer Pat Hughes, now a consultant for the planning and zoning department, was at a commission meeting representing a family. Britain complained about how much Hughes’s services now cost the county.
Planning commission chairman Derek Belton interrupted with, “Sir, can I ask you to address your comments to the application in front of us tonight?”
“You can ask,” Britain said. “I tell you what: I’m done.”
Some opponents called for commissioners send the CUP to an election.
“I’m against it totally,” one speaker said. “I’m sick of hearing about ‘green energy.’ We’re not in a crisis. We’re not in global warming. Put it on the ballot for this fall and let everybody vote on it and let the chips fall where they may.”
During Monday’s hearing, planning director Sharon Omstead recommended several conditions she’d like to see planning commissioners impose before granting a CUP.
They include: filing and maintaining a Federal Aviation Administration determination of no hazard to air navigation; restricting lighting on to what is required by FAA standards; certification by a professional engineer of compliance with setback requirements; and agreements to compensate the county for governmental services and impacts related to the project, including compensation for any necessary 911 upgrades, to be executed within 120 days after a CUP is approved.
Omstead also recommended any interference with a telecommunication tower or device be mitigated by Expedition; disturbance limits be indicated on the construction site plan and an amended zoning permit application be submitted if a turbine is relocated; fixing setbacks for turbine towers from property boundaries instead of residences; an indemnification agreement and general liability insurance that includes the county as an additional insured; and notification of any ownership transfer.
NRS purchased the project a year ago after previous companies that had worked toward developing a wind farm since 2010. Previous CUPs were granted, and the county repealed wind farm overlay districts and expanded zoning regulations in 2016, NRS chief executive Pat Pelstring said.
Jesse Hopkins-Hoel, NRS vice president of development, said the project would include 70 to 95 turbines, depending on which turbines the company gets.
Company officials also talked about environmental impacts, health concerns raised by objectors, and whether wind turbines affect property values, as objectors have contended.
Fifteen protesters earlier banded together to file a lawsuit against the county and Expedition, seeking a judge’s review of two 2016 amendments to county zoning regulations.
The suit asks that wind energy approvals earlier granted by the county be set aside and that a restraining order be issued to prevent wind farm developers from commencing construction.
The number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit grew to 60 after it was filed. A motion for a restraining order was filed Sunday.
In that motion, plaintiffs contend commissioner Dianne Novak “has publicly admitted she agrees with the plaintiffs’ claims” that commissioners failed to give proper notice of a 2016 change of zoning regulations.
“Plaintiffs anticipate Ms. Novak will be willing to state that same to the court,” the motion states.
At Monday’s county commission meeting, Pelstring asked whether commissioners were bound to secrecy about matters discussed in executive session. County counselor Brad Jantz said state law did not restrict commissioners from disclosing those discussions, but said the county could be held liable if the discussion concerned personnel.
Commissioner Mel Flaming recused himself from participating in the planning and zoning commission decision because he has land in the footprint of Expedition’s application.