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State should establish guardrails for county government

Local control.

It is a sacred philosophy in Nebraska. It’s the best way to handle things that are peculiar and unique to a given place, like a town or a county or a school district. Most of the time, the more local government is, the better it is.

This week I had back surgery, so I asked my legislative aide to attend a county planning commission meeting in Valentine. The subject of the meeting was a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application that has been made by a wind energy developer. They are proposing a 19-turbine project in northwest Cherry County. At the four-hour meeting, 30 people testified, 25 of whom were in opposition to the project. The way that wind energy development has progressed has troubled me greatly, most especially in the Sandhills.

The one aspect of wind energy that has always bothered me the most is what it does to the fabric of a community. It rips it apart, which is exactly what it is doing in the Sandhills. The animosity it has created between friends, neighbors and family members is very sad and is getting worse. The planning commission missed three different opportunities to begin healing this rift.

First, it was pointed out that by county rules, one of the commission members had a conflict of interest and should recuse themselves from further proceedings. The person chose not to vote or participate in the discussion, but they remained on the commission.

Second, there was a motion to table the issue in order to further study the question of decommissioning. The motion failed.

Third, 25 different people testified and brought a substantial amount of information for the commission to consider. They might have tabled the issue for a subsequent meeting so it could have a chance to think about all the concerns they had heard and read and consider the mountain of evidence that had been presented. Instead, the board voted 4–3 to approve and advance the CUP to the County Board of Commissioners.

The 93 counties in Nebraska were created by the Legislature. That is where all the county powers come from. When they are not responsive to their residents, it is the role of the Legislature to act. Sometimes it has not set the proper guardrails on local government.

This meeting provided an excellent example of why we need to pass my bill, LB 373. It requires counties wishing to host industrial wind energy facilities to enact zoning regulations that address many of the concerns that were ignored at this meeting. The voices of all local residents should be heard and considered.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at tbrewer@leg.ne.gov, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1423, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at (402) 471-2628.