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Wind farm protest falls short

A 64-signature protest petition that would have forced a unanimous vote to approve a proposed wind farm is not valid, county commissioners learned Monday.

Russ Ewy, a mapping consultant for the planning and zoning department, told commissioners that owners of slightly more than 6% of property within 1,000 feet of project boundaries of a conditional use permit application earlier approved by the planning and zoning commission had signed the protest petition.

For the petition to be valid, owners of 20% or more would have had to sign it.

“So what you’re saying is, the protest petition is a no-go?” commissioner Kent Becker asked Ewy.

“Yes,” Ewy answered.

Had the petition been verified, a unanimous vote would have been required to grant a conditional use permit for Expedition Wind’s proposed 70-to-95-turbine wind farm. Since the petition is not valid, a 2-1 commission vote would approve the project.

Amy Stutzman and Randy Eitzen, two of the more vocal opponents of the wind farm, left the room. Stutzman was pressing buttons on her cell phone as she walked out. Eitzen later returned to the meeting.

Pat Hughes, consulting attorney for the planning and zoning commission; Sharon Omstead, director of planning and zoning; Ewy; and county counselor Brad Jantz were with commissions as Ewy made his report.

Commissioner Randy Dallke asked about procedures to be used going forward, and Hughes said if commissioners approve the application, they can do so with an agreement that construction wouldn’t begin until road agreements and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, of PILOT, agreement are signed.

“They cannot begin the construction until the PILOT is signed,” Hughes said.

Commissioner Dianne Novak contended there were no signed agreements for CUPs earlier granted with the wind farm.

County clerk Tina Spencer disagreed, saying signed agreements from previous CUPs were provided to commissioners earlier.

“Not in the information provided to me,” Novak insisted.

Dallke said he wanted commissioners to begin working on the necessary agreements.

“What I expect is, if you approve the CUP next week, we’ll probably have a closed session and talk about that,” Hughes said.

Novak voiced dissatisfaction with a PILOT agreement earlier signed with Diamond Vista wind farm in the northern portion of the county.

“Other counties are making a million dollars a year, and here comes Marion County, a bunch of suckers, and we are not making nearly as much,” Novak said.

Novak wasn’t done disputing the wind farm. She said it had been brought to her attention that lawyers for wind farm opponents, who have filed a lawsuit asking for a restraining order against work beginning, are talking with lawyers for the county, the county clerk, and Expedition Wind.

“It is not unusual for attorneys to try to educate themselves,” Jantz said.

Pat Pelstring, CEO of the company developing wind farm, earlier said company officials thought the petition would not be validated.

“We’re pleased with the news on the status of the protest petition,” Pelstring said Monday.

Company officials plan to make progress on the wind farm at every opportunity, he said.

Planning and zoning commissioners approved Expedition’s application for a conditional use permit June 10. Opponents had 14 days to file a protest petition, and did so on the 14th day. Commissioners will next discuss the application July 8.