CASPER, Wyo. – The Wyoming Senate passed legislation on Wednesday which would decrease the amount of assistance provided to counties and municipalities impacted by industrial projects.
An example of the type of project that would be impacted by the proposed legislation: the $490 million Cedar Springs Wind Energy Project for which the City of Casper, Natrona County and Converse County all were awarded some funding to cover the cost of impacts to their communities.
Under current law, Wyoming’s Industrial Siting Council can provide no more than 2.76% of a project’s material cost as impact assistance to counties or municipalities.
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Senate File 82 initially proposed cutting the maximum amount of impact assistance which could be provided to 2% of the project’s material cost. However, the Senate amended the legislation ahead of their third reading vote to allow up to 2.25% of a project’s material cost to be provided as assistance to counties or municipalities.
The Industrial Siting Council is able to provide impact assistance to counties and municipalities which see impacts from the following types of industrial projects:
- commercial wind energy projects that include at least 20 wind turbines
- commercial solar energy projects which either:
- have a rated power capacity of more than 30 megawatts
- would result in surface disturbance of at least 100 acres
- industrial projects (other than wind and solar) which have construction costs in excess of $227 million
For a $227 million project under the current maximum impact assistance rate of 2.76%, the Industrial Siting Council could make up to $6.265 million available to impacted counties and municipalities.
Should Senate File 82 become law, the maximum assistance that would be available for a project with $227 million in construction costs would be ~$5.108 million.
Senate Vice President Larry Hicks (Albany, Carbon, Sweetwater County) said that the amendment to set the impact assistance rate at 2.25% rather than 2% would allow the state to reduce payments made through the industrial siting process but would still provide relief to counties and municipalities impacted by large projects.
“I certainly support the idea that we need to reduce the level of available funding for this program but I don’t want to constrain those local governments that are going to get damaged if there is a large industrial project in their vicinity,” Hicks said.
Sen. Drew Perkins (Natrona) said that he supported the amendment and that the legislation would send a “strong message” to the Industrial Siting Council that they need to “make sure that the awards are a little bit more justified.”
The legislation also modifies some definitions aimed to give guidance to the Industrial Siting Council in regard to what level of assistance should be provided to counties and municipalities.
The amendment adopted on Wednesday would allow counties and municipalities to be reimbursed for “expenses related to improvements to existing structures beyond that necessary to return the structure to the condition in which the structure existed before the construction of the industrial facility.” This was a type of assistance the legislation initially contemplated eliminating.
Sen. Brian Boner (Converse, Platte) said that he supported this amendment since county roads sometimes need upgraded during large industrial projects to allow heavy semi-truck traffic. Since roads or bridges may need to be improved to facilitate the project, Boner and Hicks said that the Industrial Siting Council should be able to provide impact assistance for such improvements, not only to help counties and municipalities mitigate damage.
The Senate adopted a different amendment on second reading to ensure that “any disproportionate impacts on smaller communities” could be considered when the Industrial Siting Council was determining a distribution ratio for impact assistance provided to communities in the vicinity of a large project.
With the amendment, the legislation reads: “In determining the distribution ratio, the industrial siting council may consider the extent and location of the unmitigated impacts, the populations of the affected counties, cities and towns, including any disproportionate impacts on smaller communities, and any other equitable factor.”
On first reading, the Senate also adopted an amendment that would ensure both “direct and indirect” unmitigated impacts a county or municipality faces as a result of an industrial project could be eligible for state assistance. The initial legislation would have limited this to “direct” impacts.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has indicated that the legislation would result in a decrease in General Fund expenditures if the bill becomes law, but the Legislative Service Office says the amount of those savings is indeterminable.
The Senate passed Senate File 82 on a third reading vote of 27-3 on Wednesday:
- Ayes: ANDERSON, BALDWIN, BITEMAN, BONER, BOUCHARD, CASE, COOPER, DOCKSTADER, DRISKILL, FRENCH, FURPHY, GIERAU, HICKS, HUTCHINGS, JAMES, KINSKEY, KOLB, KOST, LANDEN, MCKEOWN, PAPPAS, PERKINS, ROTHFUSS, SALAZAR, SCOTT, STEINMETZ, WASSERBURGER
- Nays: ELLIS, NETHERCOTT, SCHULER
The legislation will move to the House of Representatives for consideration.
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