Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for development of a wind farm, but took no action on a development plan submitted by the company Monday.
Audience members had been told earlier there would be no public comment at Monday’s meeting because meetings were earlier held for people to voice their opinions.
Commissioners Randy Dallke and Kent Becker voted in favor of the application. Dianne Novak voted against.
Commissioners took no action on a development plan also submitted by the wind farm company.
In anticipation of a large crowd of observers, the wind farm discussion was held at Marion High School Performing Arts Center. About 45 people, including representatives of Expedition Wind Farm developers National Renewable Solutions, showed up.
Planning and zoning director Sharon Omstead went through changes Expedition suggested for the conditional use permit. They included such requests as changing language of the application to indicate the company pays any lawyers needed directly instead of the county paying the lawyers and being reimbursed by the company.
Lawyer Pat Hughes, the county’s legal consultant for the wind farm, told commissioners they could approve or disapprove the conditional use permit application as submitted, approve it with changes or additional conditions, approve both the conditional use permit and the company’s development plan at the same time, or send the application back to Expedition.
Novak asked county mapping consultant Russ Ewy how he determined which signatures were valid on a 64-signature protest petition submitted by opponents two weeks after the planning and zoning commission approved sending the application to commissioners.
When Ewy told commissioners last week the protest petition was not valid, he said owners of slightly more than 6% of property within 1,000 feet of project boundaries had signed. In order for the petition to be valid, owners of 20% or more must sign.
Had the petition been validated, a unanimous vote would have been required to grant a CUP for the wind farm. Since the petition is not valid, a 2-1 commission vote would approve the project.
Novak also asked Ewy about the purpose of a buffer near the project. Displaying two large maps she’d prepared, she compared maps of a Reno County wind farm proposal and Expedition’s proposal.
Ewy said the purpose might have been to reduce the number of qualifying petition signers, but it is a question for Expedition.
“I would tell everybody in the last two weeks I have read this book,” Novak said, gesturing to the thick notebook containing the wind farm’s application.
She said she was “confused through this whole process of what we were talking about,” because she didn’t know whether commissioners were being asked to include permits granted previously.
Hughes said the planning commission’s recommendation is to keep the new application separate from earlier approved applications.
Novak also asked what size the turbines would be, and Hughes said that is to be determined later.
Novak asked what steps will be taken to protect historical sites. Omstead said there is information on that in the paperwork and perhaps that was also a question to address to Expedition Wind.
Becker thanked her for her questions, then directed the commission toward taking a vote.
“I think our purpose here today is to ether accept, override, or deny planning and zoning’s recommendation on the conditional use permit and development plan,” he said.
Dallke’s motion to approve the conditional use permit with a two-mile setback from the city of Peabody passed with Becker’s supporting vote and Novak opposed.
Dallke said his reason for voting in favor is that the county will reap benefits from the wind farm.
Dallke also addressed an issue raised by opponents, that earlier permits were issued before planning and zoning regulations were changed two years ago.
“That is over,” Dallke said.
Becker offered the microphone to Novak so she could say why she voted the way she voted, but she declined to speak.
After the meeting, Novak said her vision of the county’s future is “not to be the home of many wind farms, which I believe will stifle all future growth in residential and economic opportunities.”
Novak said she believes the wind farm would benefit only a few people, and others will endure hardship because of lost home value.
Novak claims payments made in lieu of taxes do not compare to tax money the county would collect if the turbines were taxed.
Payment in lieu of taxes agreements are reached after the CUP decision, and at this point remain subject to negotiation between Expedition and commissioners.
“It’s obvious to me we are playing a game and all the players are not abiding by the rules,” Novak said. “Fact is big wind company players stretch and bend the rules to their advantage. How is that good for our county and future?”
Expedition officials were pleased with the vote.
“Obviously we think we made a great step forward,” Expedition CEO Pat Pelstring said. “With the development plan, we’ve got some minor issues to work on.”
Before Expedition can begin construction, a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, a road maintenance agreement, a decommissioning agreement, and any other details the county wants to address must be ironed out.
Hughes said last week those discussions would likely be held in closed-door sessions.
Dallke would not speculate on the timeline to agree on a development plan.
“It could take some time,” Dallke said.
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