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Permit denied for south-central North Dakota wind project: Decision made after four-hour hearing with testimony from opponents

A proposed expansion of the Ashtabula Wind Energy Center north of Valley City, N.D., above, has generated complaints from nearby residents who are concerned about noise and possible health effects. North Dakota requires wind turbines to be at least a quarter-mile from the nearest occupied dwelling, but some research suggests setbacks should be at least a half-mile or mile to ensure safety. Patrick Springer / The Forum

BISMARCK — The Burleigh County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-3 late Wednesday, Dec. 5, to deny a permit for the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm, following a four-hour meeting with passionate testimony from both sides.

More than 500 citizens attended the rescheduled public hearing, which was held in the Bismarck Event Center’s main arena, with more than half wearing a shade of red, representing opposition to the project.

Chicago-based Pure New Energy USA proposed the 250-megawatt Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm, which would be located about 15 miles southeast of Bismarck and 12 to 13 miles from the city’s airport.

The proposal includes about 70 wind turbines that would be erected in southern Burleigh County and northern Emmons County in an area that covers 15,000 acres.

Opponents raised questions about impacts to quality of life, wildlife, health impacts and reduced property values, among other concerns. Supporters of the project emphasized the new jobs the project would create and other economic benefits to the community, particularly the local school district.

After the public hearing that grew heated at times, Commission Vice Chairman Neil Effertz made a motion to deny the permit. Effertz said members needed to make their decision based on what they feel is the future vision of the county.

“I think that we see that there’s probably a better place to put a wind farm development,” Effertz said.

Steve Marquardt, who is on the planning commission as well as the Bismarck City Commission, said he opposed the project because of potential impact on future growth at the Bismarck Airport.

Mayor Steve Bakken, who is a member of the planning commission, said he anticipates the company will appeal to the Burleigh County Commission.

During the lengthy public hearing, rancher Cody Kologi raised concerns about shadow flicker, or a flickering shadow caused by the wind turbines’ blades.

Kologi, who owns and operates a ranch 6 miles west of Moffit, also was among several who said the project has divided the community.

“People who used to be good friends don’t talk to each other anymore. Families are hurt over — what — some money from a wind tower?” he said. “We have to ask, ‘Is it really worth it?’”

Courtney Timmons, PNE’s director of business development, said the wind farm's estimated economic impacts include a $13 million one-time state sales tax payment, annual property tax revenues of $1.1 million and landowner payments of more than $1 million per year.

Timmons also emphasized that the company complied with all of the county's requirements for a wind project.

The Burleigh County Commission recently agreed to assume Morton Township’s permitting authority for the wind farm, to avoid a conflict of interest — all three of the township’s supervisors are participating landowners in the project.

Morton Township Supervisor Brian Dralle, who has held the position for 29 years and is a 60-year resident of Morton Township, said he cannot justify “depriving” neighbors, friends, the school district, the county and the township of the “massive amounts” of money the project will generate.

“The main complaint against this project is that it will change the landscape, and it will,” he said. “So did power-line poles when they first came up, or even cell phone towers … Whenever someone adds grain bins, shops or even tree rows, it changes the beautiful landscape around them.”

Seventeen-year-old Kristi Carpenter, who attends the Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock Public School, said she’s “extremely opposed” to the wind facility.

“I live on a ranch with my parents and highly value the peace and quiet of living in the county. I love riding my horse and appreciate the beautiful scenery in the area of which I live,” she said. “This proposed wind facility has destroyed the community where I live.”

Also speaking at the public hearing was Morton Township landowner Arlene Berger, a teacher of 26 years who is in favor of the project.

“One of the things that has really made an impact on me is the fact that it will impact the schools. When you have a good education system in your community, that’s what draws people to your community,” she said. “What it’ll do for our kids … it’s going to be amazing.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, distributed a letter to commissioners that was signed by all North Dakota utility companies indicating that none of them have agreements to purchase power from the proposed project and are not in any discussions to purchase the power.

Brandenburg, who is typically a supporter of wind projects, testified against the project, prompting opponents to stand and applaud.

“There are good places to put wind farms. This is not a good place to put a wind farm because it does not have public acceptance,” Brandenburg said.

Timmons said during his presentation that the company typically gets the local permits before negotiating a power purchase agreement.

“We’re not ready yet to engage,” Timmons said.

Telfer Township and Emmons County must also decide whether or not to issue special use permits for the wind farm.

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