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Disputes erupt over wind farm

DICKINSON, N.D.--Wind developers are having a hard time getting a project sited in Stark County, after one was rejected last year and a second option is being disputed in court.

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DICKINSON, N.D.-Wind developers are having a hard time getting a project sited in Stark County, after one was rejected last year and a second option is being disputed in court.

  NextEra Energy plans to build an 87-turbine wind project along the southern edge of Stark County roughly from west of Lefor, N.D., on the Enchanted Highway to past Highway 22 south of Dickinson. The $250 million, 18,000-acre project would provide 150 megawatts of electricity to Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

A group that calls itself Concerned Citizens of Stark County filed suit in South West District Court, complaining that the Stark County zoning board and commission failed to provide the public proper notice for back-to-back meetings when both boards approved the wind farm in December. That suit remains unresolved.

Barring any changes caused by the court suit, the North Dakota Public Service Commission is the last regulatory stop for the project. The commission said it will delay its public hearing until March 30 at the request of the citizens' group which wants more time to review the information the company has submitted.

The PSC will take comment on the wind farm starting at 8 a.m. and on the transmission line at 5 p.m. at the Dickinson City Hall.

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Besides the wind farm, NextEra is proposing to build a 20-mile transmission line for another $12 million.

Tom Reichert, spokesman for the citizens group, said this second location in southern Stark County is no more acceptable than the first one in the Richardton-Taylor, N.D., area that was turned down by the county.

"Not only is there as much (population) density with small tracts of land, of the 40 landowners who agreed to have turbines, half are residents and half are absentee owners," said Reichert, adding that the group is holding out for deeper setbacks, so turbines would have to be located 2,000 feet from a property line, not from a residence.

"Otherwise, that residence is being used to make up the setback and we think that's easement trespass," Reichert said.

The group is picking up new members and that 200 will grow to 500 after open houses are held this month throughout the project area, according to Reichert.

NextEra did not return a call for comment.

Stark County Commissioner Jay Elkin said he believes far more people favor the project than oppose it. He said this remote location will have much less impact on the population than NextEra's first attempt.

Elkin voted against the new location as a zoning board member, but said he felt he had to honor the zoning board's recommendation to approve it when he voted again as a commissioner.

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He said the wind development would help school and emergency districts with tax revenue and landowners with turbine lease payments.

"With low commodity prices, farmers and ranchers need help and this happens to be the help they're looking for," Elkin said.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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