Expedition Wind, the company approved Nov. 15 to develop a wind farm in the southern portion of the county, has sent letters offering settlement to plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit opposing the project. The company offers various settlements, some as much as buying their property for 1½ times its value.
The offer would apply only to plaintiffs of a suit filed Aug. 14 in district court. The property purchase offer is only for those who live within the footprint of the wind farm.
Plaintiffs who live within a mile of the wind farm were offered an initial payment of $5,000 and annual payments of $2,000. Those who live up to five miles of the wind farm were offered a single payment of $2,500; and those more than 10 miles away a single payment of $1,000.
County commissioners will be sending out a letter of their own to clarify any offer is between the wind farm company and the plaintiffs, and the county is not involved.
Commissioner Dianne Novak brought a copy of the letter to Monday’s commission meeting and read portions of it, calling the letter “out of line.”
Amy Stutzman, one of the plaintiffs, laughed aloud while Novak read paragraphs from the letter.
Stutzman then called the letter “bribery” and said she’d sent copies of it to county counsel Brad Jantz, the county attorney, and the attorney general.
Novak asked Jantz if the wind company can write such a letter.
Jantz said the letter is not illegal. He said he is aware Expedition is trying to resolve the lawsuit, but the county is not part of it.
“I don’t want any part of it,” Novak said.
For months, opponents have passionately objected to developing a second wind farm in the county, speaking to county commissioners, writing protest petitions, and filing lawsuits.
An acceptance of settlement offer form included with the letter contains wording that plaintiffs who agree to Expedition’s offer settle any and all claims they may have now or in the future relating to the project, including lawsuits and claims against the county, the planning commission, and any affiliated person as well as the wind farm itself.
Expedition CEO Pat Pelstring said the company is confident they will prevail in the current lawsuit, but wants to see if plaintiffs would agree to settle. All plaintiffs must agree within four to six weeks, or the offers expire.
“We have made fair offers, based on their relative proximity to the wind farm,” Pelstring said.
Pelstring said the company wants to ease its transition into the community, and “play fair.”
“We believe our legal position is well protected, and we have built in all necessary contingency plans to allow the legal process to run its course,” Pelstring said. “In conjunction with the county, we expect to file our response to the current lawsuit in the next 30 to 45 days. Once filed, this will mark the end of the timeframe to reach a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs. We also need agreement from 100% of the plaintiffs in order for payments to become due.”
The company wants to resolve the current lawsuit as well as dissuade opponents from filing more lawsuits, he said.
“If not, we will seek all necessary legal resolutions to prevail, as we did in the first two lawsuits,” Pelstring said.
Expedition is now focused on finishing fieldwork in preparation for notice to proceed with construction, he said.
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