Lawyers representing Page County citizens comment on court petition filed Monday
Credit: Ethan Hewett, Sep 22, 2022, kmaland.com ~~
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(Clarinda) – A vague ordinance and a lack of “equal protection” for all those involved in a proposed wind project are but some of major factors leading to a lawsuit against Page County.
That’s according to Lawyers Theodore Sporer and Shawn Shearer, who are serving as co-counsel for a group of Page County citizens who filed a pleading Monday in the District Court of Iowa for Page County. The move comes shortly after the county board of supervisors approved a permit application from Invenergy on its “Shenandoah Hills” wind farm last month. Per the petition, allegations include violations of the Iowa Open Meetings Act, enterprise corruption, and approval of an application containing known falsehoods and inaccuracies. Allegations also state the board willfully ignored on the record requests for information and refused to acknowledge the impact of the “Shenandoah Hills” project’s “toe-hold” on individual citizens. Sporer tells KMA News filing a lawsuit was the last straw in a multi-year effort and shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the county.
“My clients have been trying every other form of remedy and relief for three years,” said Sporer. “Page County knew that if they granted the permit that was requested last month, that this lawsuit would be filed.”
Additionally, the petition claims the board failed to take in adequate public input on the current wind ordinance passed in October 2019 and requests a restraining order on the board. If granted, petitioners hope would prevent the board from moving forward on any items arising from County Ordinance 2019-2. Sporer says that the ordinance is vague and is also “bizarre” by repealing any other “inconsistent ordinances” when utilized.
“The entire zoning ordinance is effectively repealed by this 2019 ordinance that’s designed to allow a company named Invenergy to access Page County wind resources,” he said. “When, pretty obviously, there’s about a 3-to-1 majority in the county against that particular use of ag land in southwest Iowa.”
Sporer states the county may not have only violated its own ordinances but also the Iowa Home Rule Statute and possibly the Iowa Constitution.
Petitioners allege the board demonstrated a “conflict of interest” in attempting to promote wind energy’s interests ahead of the county’s welfare. Sporer says Morris and Armstrong also willingly approved a project they knew had inaccuracies with an ordinance they claimed needed changes.
“Meeting after meeting, Armstrong and Morris, the two supervisors that are the primary issue in this case, kept telling the public ‘they know it’s not complete, and there will have to be changes made later,'” said Sporer. “And no such changes have been foreseen.”
Additionally, petitioners claim Armstrong, Morris, and County Attorney Carl Sonksen “directly, knowingly, and intentionally cooperated with Invenergy” to benefit an “illegal enterprise.” They claim the goal was “to provide Invenergy exclusive access to wind assets available in Page County, and the profits therefrom, to be distributed by Invenergy in its discretion, to benefit of members” of the said enterprise.
Despite the lawsuit involving several Page County officials and the county itself, Sporer says his team has no intentions of asking for a change of venue.
“I can’t think of a better place to sue Page County than in Page County,” said Sporer. “Precisely as the Iowa Code requires – that is the court of proper venue. I think that’s the perfect jurisdiction, in fact, I don’t see any other jurisdictions that would even have venue.”
Shearer says the timeline for the lawsuit will depend on the cooperation from the county and other respondents listed in the petition.
When asked by KMA News about the lawsuit, Supervisors Chair Alan Armstrong chose not to provide any comment at this time. A full copy of the over 100-page petition is available here.
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