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Why we sued Logan County

On June 16, 2020, the Logan County Commissioners gave the Niyol Wind Project a green light by approving its conditional use permit application. Concerned Citizens for a Safe Logan County, Inc, has, from the outset, sought collaboration and compromise in order to guide wind development that will work for everyone. We were repeatedly and condescendingly rebuffed in our efforts and we fear the residents of future wind project sites will face a similar fate.

With the knowledge that Logan County has virtually no regulations in place for wind energy development, companies are now quietly courting landowners to sign contracts for new wind projects near Merino, Iliff and north of Sterling. What was once a concern for a group of residents in Fleming is now quickly becoming a countywide problem, which is why our group has chosen to challenge the Niyol permit and the flawed process our county used to approve it.

Because our county has no real protections for non-participating landowners, wind companies can quietly sign contracts with large landowners and sidestep other residents that stand to be highly impacted. The first contracts for the Niyol project were signed in 2014, but the most of the highly impacted landowners in our group did not learn about the project until very late in 2019. By` the time the majority of our group learned that 83 families would have 500 foot towers within a mile of their homes, the wheels were already in motion for approval.

After learning about the project, our group quickly began work to collaborate with the county to develop guidelines for wind development that were to focus on the preservation of property rights for everyone involved. Over the course of the past eight months, we were directed through various civil rabbit holes while attempting to engage our county leaders. Ultimately, we were told that the rules could not be changed in the middle of the game and that we should have brought these concerns forward sooner.

The commissioners have set a dangerous precedent. If a permit for a 40,000 acre project containing 500 foot structures that will be part of our county for at least the next 30 years can be swiftly approved with little regard for affected homeowners, what will stop companies from demanding similar treatment in the future?

Other counties have sought a different approach. Just to our south, Washington County imposed a six-month moratorium on wind development while a multi-stakeholder taskforce creates guidelines that work for everyone. We suggested a similar process to our county leaders three times (late 2019, April 2020 and June 2020), but we were quickly dismissed. In Nemaha County, Kansas, Nextera agreed to a litany of conditions, including a 3,000 foot setback from non-participating properties in February of this year. That project remains on track despite these compromises.

The outcome of our suit may prove vitally important in the near future. Presidential candidate Joe Biden stated in a recent speech that he wants to spend $2 trillion on renewable energy and build, “tens of thousands of turbines,” if he is elected. Meanwhile, Governor Polis has ordered that Colorado will be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2040.

A recent Forbes article (July 14, 2020) sited the enormous cost of these projects as well as the increasingly contentious land-use conflicts as obstacles to these plans moving forward, but rural Colorado will still be expected to bear the brunt of these mandates. If Logan County is to become the epicenter for wind energy development that our commissioners desire it to be, our goal will not be to block them, but rather to continue to demand that these contracting and permitting processes be open and collaborative while providing adequate protections for the county and its residents. We will continue to make our voices heard, not just for the community in Fleming, but for all our Logan County neighbors.

The Niyol transmission line permit application will be considered at the Logan County Planning Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public. Please visit our website (www.necowindtest.com) to support our cause and to learn about the Niyol project as well as its projected impact on our county’s property values. Finally, email, call and write your county leaders. Let them know that their actions will affect all of us, now and long into the future.

Tony Gerk is a family physician in Sterling, a resident of Fleming and a founding member of Concerned Citizens for a Safe Logan County, Inc.