Whether to allow more wind farms in the county is unlikely to be decided by voters, county commissioners learned Monday.
County counselor Brad Jantz said any petition seeking an election could be ruled inappropriate.
“We have the ability to have zoning in the county,” he said. “The county already has a mechanism, so this becomes administrative not legislative.”
And that, in turns, means any vote would have to be non-binding and could not conducted at the same time as a normal election.
State law specifically allows for adding to regular ballots such questions as whether to hire a county administrator, he said.
But no provision exists for voting on wind farms, and since zoning already deals with such issues, it might be inappropriate for the county to accept a petition seeking a referendum.
Commissioners could call for a vote themselves, but it would have to be at a special election, which would cost the county a minimum of $5,000 and perhaps as much as $15,000, county clerk Tina Spencer said.
Earlier in the meeting, spectator Chuck Seifert had told commissioners: “I think that the wind generator thing is such a controversy that we need to put it to a vote. If the people want it, OK. If the people don’t want it, OK.”
Seifert questioned whether average taxpayers would get anything out of wind farms. Recalling past votes in which a landfill and a casino were rejected, he said:
“Both of them were revenue for the county – substantial revenue for the county – and a few people shut them down. A few people. Not very many people. A few did because they turned the people against them.
“Now, look what the landfill, because of that, what that’s costing us. It’s costing us a lot of money. Lost revenue plus what it’s costing us as taxpayers now to maintain a transfer station.”
Jantz advised anyone thinking about submitting a petition about a wind farm vote to check first with the attorney general’s office for an advisory opinion. His warning came immediately after commissioners spent 45 minutes behind closed doors reviewing legal documents submitted by attorneys hired by the county during proceedings involving Expedition Wind’s proposal for a new wind farm.
Commissioner Dianne Novak had attempted to obtain the documents through an open-records request.
Rebuffed, she asked to review them in an executive session with other commissioners, Jantz, Spencer, and zoning administrator Sharon Omstead.
Omstead came to the meeting with nearly inch-thick stacks of documents for commissioners to review. She also spent nearly half an hour talking to commissioners behind closed doors about what was listed as being a “personnel performance” issue.
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