County commissioners were met with a packed meeting room as they approved a conditional use permit and voted to change the language in zoning rules.
Both moves make way for the Expedition Wind Farm.
The first two items commissioners considered were a change in zoning text and a conditional use permit for the wind farm, both recommended by the planning commission Oct. 24.
The planning commission recommended removing the words “electric transmission lines” from Article 19-105 to make the rules consistent instead of having one section that specifies the county regulates transmission lines and another that says the county does not.
Removing “electric transmission lines” from actions requiring a conditional use permit would mean county regulations would also align with other counties in the state, which do not regulate transmission lines, said Russ Ewy, the county’s consultant for planning and zoning matters.
Commissioner Dianne Novak told Ewy she thinks transmission lines need to be regulated.
Ewy said he’s never seen any other entity regulate transmission lines, pipelines, sewer lines, or anything of the like. The county does regulate wind energy facilities, he said.
The change in zoning regulation text passed on a split vote, with commissioners Randy Dallke and Kent Becker voting in favor and Novak voting against.
The planning commission recommended that Expedition Wind be granted a conditional use permit for a small section of land the wind farm needs to connect its transmission lines.
Novak said it seems to her that approving the permit would be premature, since a vote to approve would be nullified if a protest petition were filed by neighboring landowners within 14 days of the planning commission’s recommendation.
Gerado Mendoza, who owns a home east of Aulne, said he hadn’t gotten a notice that commissioners would consider the request for a permit.
“I just happened to find out about it Friday,” Mendoza said. “I’m not saying which side I’m on, I’m just saying we need to have the 14 days.”
Novak said people were told during the planning commission meeting that the commission would consider granting a permit Nov. 12.
Florence resident Tom Britton said he thought the commission should wait until two new commissioners are seated.
Commission candidate David Crofoot disagreed, saying current commissioners have been privy to all that has happened previously.
“From the commission point of view, we need to take action or not take action,” Becker said.
Becker’s motion to grant the permit passed on a split vote, with Becker and Dallke voting in favor and Novak voting against.
Trish Voth, lawyer for Expedition Wind, told commissioners that only one permit is being sought and 89% of neighboring landowners have already told planning and zoning director Sharon Omstead they are not interested in objecting.
The third item was discussion of Expedition Wind’s development plan.
Jesse Hopkins-Hoel showed commissioners maps of the proposed wind farm. He pointed out proposed haul routes, a laydown yard, operations center, setbacks from non-participating landowners, and symbols for 74 turbines.
He said the next step in the process is verifying exactly where pipelines, underground power lines, and like structures are.
“This layout is not final, but it’s a very good illustration of what it’s supposed to be,” Hopkins-Hoel said.
Britain said the wind farm is “looking at eminent domain for transmission lines.”
“Let me be very clear,” Hopkins-Hoel said. “There is no eminent domain. We don’t have the power to do that.”
Novak said the commission and the wind farm need to finalize a payment in lieu of taxes agreement before approving a wind farm development plan.
Commissioners took no vote on the development plan but decided to wait before they voted.