The Albany County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday morning that an application from ConnectGen for the Rail Tie Wind Project is complete, kicking off a comment and review period that includes a public hearing June 1.
As required by county regulations, wind energy conversion system project permit applications must include a project summary; names and contact information for the applicant, owners and property owners; a site plan; a series of studies, reports, certifications and approvals; and letters of consent from property owners.
Planning director David Gertsch said the county’s planning staff reviewed the application and found it substantially complete. He had already requested additional information from ConnectGen for the site plan and noted that one property owner is still negotiating a lease agreement and thus said they “do not oppose” the application rather than giving consent at this point.
Commissioners Heber Richardson and Sue Ibarra voted in favor of deeming the application complete, while Commissioner Pete Gosar voted against.
Gosar said that because of the number of people substantially invested in support of and in opposition to the project, he didn’t want to deem the application complete without all letters of consent in hand.
“If there’s one outstanding, that’s enough for me to vote no, quite honestly,” he said. “I want the wording to be correct.”
Gertsch described the process of deeming the application complete as a “starting point.” The process now moves into the review phase, during which the planning department will consider the substance of the application and whether it meets county regulations.
“We’ll do a thorough review of all that information,” he said. “We have that period before the hearing, and then we have 45 days after the hearing if we need that information.”
Rail Tie opponents said ConnectGen hasn’t met public notification requirements because it didn’t notify landowners in the area about Tuesday’s commission meeting. Gertsch said there’s no public notice requirement for a commission action deeming the application complete.
“We have not entered the public process yet,” he said. “It wasn’t the public’s job to determine whether it’s complete or not.”
Attorney Phil Nicholas, representing a group of landowners opposing the project, argued that the notification responsibility is “much greater” than just notification to landowners of the public hearing.
“We think your rules are much broader, that people are entitled to have notification of all the meetings as well as the public (hearings),” he said.
Deputy county attorney Jennifer Curran disagreed with Nicholas’ interpretation.
“There is not a notice requirement from ConnectGen to the landowners at this point,” she said.
The Rail Tie Wind Project proposes 120 wind turbines on 26,000 acres of public and private land south of Laramie.
In addition to a permit from Albany County, the project requires permission from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. ConnectGen’s application documents can be viewed online at www.railtiewind.com.
ConnectGen is requesting to connect with a transmission line operated by the Western Area Power Administration, which requires the administration to complete an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Protection Act. A draft environmental impact statement was released Friday and a 45-day comment period runs through May 17. Those documents are available at www.wapa.gov/transmission/EnvironmentalReviewNEPA/Pages/rail-tie-wind-project.aspx.
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