Posted 6/09/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
A windfarm north of Tioga continues to raise concerns as the project winds through the permitting process.
Two township meetings last week were held to address requests for a variance for the project, but both boards tabled a decision, pending further consideration of the proposal.
Why a variance is needed
In April, Tradewind Energy, the project developer, submitted a 1,000-page conditional use permit to the Williams County Planning and Zoning Department for the project, which consists of 75 turbines over 13,000 acres.
County ordinances require the turbines to have a 1,400-foot setback from any structure. The ordinance doesn’t define exactly what constitutes a structure, meaning a mailbox could legally be considered a structure.
Assuming any manmade object could potentially be considered a structure, the project would be impossible to build with those setback requirements.
Company representatives discussed the issue with the county, which is looking to revise its ordinance in the coming months. When that will be complete is uncertain, and it could take several months.
Instead, the company elected to seek approval of a variance that would permit the project to be located less than 1,400 feet from any non-occupied structures. The variance would not apply to homes and businesses, and would not extend outside this particular project. The variance would also not alter other setback requirements with regard to roads, highways, and section lines.
The company was required to get permission from each landowner who would be impacted by the variance, and each one has signed a waiver.
Before the county will approve the variance, it wants input from Tioga and Lindahl Townships. The decisions of the boards act only as recommendations to the county, which would ultimately decide whether to approve or deny the company’s request.
Both township boards held meetings Thursday to discuss the issue.
The project will have no turbines within Tioga Township, but a single parcel upon which a turbine will be placed extends into the township. That turbine is projected to sit less than 1,400 feet from an oil well.
The owner of the parcel, Gordon Lalim, signed a waiver agreeing to the variance.
Despite the small scope of the variance within Tioga Township and the approval of the landowner, other landowners and residents in the township are concerned that if the county approves one variance it will open the door to relaxing all restrictions.
“If you allow this to happen, it sets a precedent and a standard,” said Cody Weflen.
Township board member Sam Sagaser argued the county should respect the rights of private property owners.
“I don’t feel that a few should be able to tell a private property owner how he can develop his land to the best of his potential. And that is what’s happening,” Sagaser said.
Weflen said the county is currently looking at these ordinances and considering revising them, making such variances all the more likely to influence changes in laws that restrict development that impacts residents and landowners.
Attendees at the meeting included Dan McGinnity, who spoke in favor of the project. McGinnity is among the landowners who have sold leases to Tradewinds.
“I look at this as part of my retirement,” he said.
Bruce Kjelvik said he sympathizes with the desires of private property owners to develop their property, but growth has been so widespread in the area that restrictions are necessary.
“I’d like to go back to 1900 . . . What if I put a dragstrip right across from you and ran it 24-hours a day?” Kjelvik said.
The board voted to table the measure while they give the points raised at the meeting further consideration.
The bulk of the turbines would be located in Lindahl Township, where the township board held a hearing Thursday evening.
As in Tioga Township, residents expressed concerns about setting a precedent.
Township board supervisor Brian Hove also pointed out that turbines do sometimes catch fire and asked what dangers that could pose.
“It is a minor concern of mine, personally,” said Tim Sundhagen, who is on the volunteer fire department.
Speaking after the meeting, Hove said he feels Sundhagen has decades of experience in firefighting in the oil fields so Sundhagen’s answers satisfy his concerns.
Several other residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the project, citing property rights and other benefits to the area.
“Everybody’s got a different life, but we all adapt to that life. We’ve been playing catchup ever since that oil come in. Now we have a chance to get an energy industry in here before we need it,” said Mary Hoseth.
Before the vote took place, Sundhagen urged the board to make a decision that night.
“How often do you get a majority of landowners to agree to a project? That’s a very rare thing . . . Why table it? Let it go,” he said.
However, the Lindahl board voted to table the measure for further consideration.
Dean Strid asked the board, when they do make a decision, to vote in favor of the variance.
“Consider what’s best for our township. New industry. New jobs,” he said.
As of press time, neither Tioga or Lindahl Townships have scheduled a meeting to make a decision on the issue.