Posted 6/30/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
A wind farm project north of Tioga could be in jeopardy following a decision by the Williams County Planning and Zoning Commission last week.
However, county commissioners still have the option of approving the project, if they reject the zoning commission’s recommendation at a permit hearing later this month.
Tradewind Energy submitted an application in April for a conditional use permit related to a planned wind energy project about four miles north of Tioga.
The company, a national developer of windfarms out of Kansas, held a series of meetings about the project with Tioga, Lindahl, and Sauk Valley Townships over the past couple of months. The boards of all three townships recommended approval of the permit, along with a variance on a required 1,400 foot setback from unoccupied structures.
Following a lengthy hearing Thursday evening in Williston, the planning and zoning commission denied the permit. Commissioner Dan Kalil expressed concern over the number of oil wells that currently exist and many more planned for the future in Lindahl Township, where most of the turbines are to be located.
“There is a lot going on in that township,” Kalil said.
Commissioner Kim Steffan said she likes the idea of the project, but she is concerned about the potential impacts of the variance.
Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk voted against the motion to deny the permit.
The project has been controversial since Tradewind publicly announced it last year.
While the project was initiated by landowners within Lindahl Township and all property owners within the project boundaries were participants in the leases, some neighboring residents were concerned about noise, obstructions to their view and safety of the turbines.
“Try not to make it personal. I know this has been a very long process for everyone in that area,” said Cymbaluk at the start of the public hearing Thursday.
With a permit application of about 1,000 pages, the company’s presentation Thursday provided only a brief overview.
Among the benefits cited were $250 million capital investments from the construction, 100 to 300 temporary construction jobs, 8 to 12 permanent jobs, $25 million to $30 million in payments to leasing landowners over the 25-year life of the windfarm, and up to $20 million in taxes to the county.
Senior Development Manager Brice Barton also cited the fact that, unlike the oil industry, the wind farm will not put much strain on the local infrastructure. Once the project is built, most of the traffic associated with the wind farm will be small maintenance trucks.
“We don’t have to truck out our product,” Barton told the audience.
Barton said the company has made a series of concessions to try to address some of the concerns of neighboring property owners and residents, such as increasing the distance of the nearest turbine to Tioga to about four miles, and no turbines placed closer than 3,500 feet from any homes of residents not participating in the project leases.
“There’s only a couple that are under a mile,” Barton said.
The public comment portion of the hearing drew supporters and opponents.
Todd Beasley expressed concern over the setbacks, stating that ice flying off the turbines or blades breaking loose could cause an injury.
He said regulations across the country are continuing to reduce setbacks as a means to accommodate the growing number of wind farms being built. He cited an Ohio state law passed last year that required a 1,300-foot setback from property lines. The law came about as a result of local governments reducing setbacks to accommodate the development of more windfarms.
“They want to build more and more wind towers,” he said.
He also said wind energy mandates in Minnesota have actually resulted in increases in the cost of electricity in that state.
Cody Weflen cited Tioga Township’s approval of the variance, which would apply to a single turbine in the entire project. The planned turbine is located inside Lindahl Township, but that tower would be located less than 1,400 feet from a structure in Tioga Township.
“They should be able to find a place to put it. I think the 1,400 variance is enough,” Weflen said.
Bruce Kjelvik expressed concern that township board members who disclosed a financial interest in the project were still allowed to vote to recommend approval of the permit.
He also voiced concern over who would be liable if an injury or property damage were to result from a broken blade or flying ice.
Barton said the project is insured to cover any damage or injuries as a result of the turbines.
“We carry insurance on our assets just like anyone else would,” Barton said.
Several people spoke in favor of the project, many of whom are landowners who signed leases with the developer.
Garret Lalim said he’s a rancher and farmer on land he owns within Tioga Township and asked the commission to approve the permit.
“We’re working people in those townships,” he said.