The Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission approved changes to the county’s commercial wind energy siting regulations during a meeting Tuesday, and those proposed changes will now go before the Board of Commissioners.
A couple times during the meeting, members of the commission defended themselves from public criticism aimed at the commission as a whole and at individual members – a testament to public interest and concern surrounding a proposed wind development near Tie Siding.
Scrutiny of the county’s regulations became a hot topic earlier this year, after Texas-based renewable energy company ConnectGen announced plans to build the 504-megawatt Rail Tie Wind Project south of Laramie.
Last week, the State Board of Land Commissioners denied ConnectGen a lease for the portion of the project that would have been located on 4,800 acres of state land. However, the company plans to continue with the project on private land, where about 80% of the proposed development would occur.
During a work session two weeks ago, the planning commission suggested a number of revisions to county regulations that would increase developer liability and compliance and limit light pollution, among other changes.
Keith Kennedy, Shaun Moore and John Spiegelberg voted in favor of the changes. David Cunningham resigned from the board since that meeting. Vice chairman Carl Miller was not present at either meeting.
During a public comment session, several Laramie and Tie Siding residents spoke in support of the county’s proposed changes and the Rail Tie project specifically.
Rancher Nancy Bath said the project, to be located in part on her property, would allow her family to continue running their historic ranch.
“We believe it is an appropriate means to continue our ag operation,” she said. “I’m sorry for the abuse you’ve taken from area residents who insult your work. We appreciate your effort.”
Dave Coffey, chairman of the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance, said he was very supportive of the proposed changes.
“I think the regulations are fair, and I’m excited to have industries looking into spending money in Albany County and creating jobs,” he said.
Other Laramie and Tie Siding residents expressed dismay about the Rail Tie project and concern about the county’s regulations for allowing a project of that magnitude in their neck of the woods.
“I think your suggested changes fall far short of changes need to support rural residents,” said Ruth Sommers. “We need you to step up and protect us.”
Kirk Stone said he purchased property overlooking the area now proposed for development with the intention of spending the rest of his life enjoying the view.
“This is a 26,000-acre project right in the middle of the best view in southeastern Wyoming,” he said. “We need to make a very decided effort at how we’re going to permit these huge industrial projects. This is a permanent change.”
Mariah White argued that the government was not protecting her property.
“Many citizens of this county do not want (wind turbines) near their homes,” she said. “Why is this so unreasonable?”
Moore defended the commission against pointed criticism from vocal Rail Tie opponent Paul Montoya, who said that the group was “broken.”
“It’s a very good commission. We have sat here for many meetings. We have read through a lot of stuff. We’re doing the best job that we can do,” Moore said.
Spiegelberg said he had received letters accusing him of having no concern for the health and safety of county residents.
“I really respect everybody’s opinion. I do not appreciate personal attacks,” he said.
The Board of Commissioners will consider the Planning and Zoning Commission’s suggested changes at a meeting in the next couple months.
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