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A wind farm near Jamestown, N.D. Forum News Service file photo

Strong beliefs blow in with proposed wind farm in south-central ND

BISMARCK -- More than 150 citizens filled three rooms of Bismarck’s City/County Building Wednesday night, aiming to make their voices heard in regard to a wind farm being proposed for portions of Burleigh and Emmons counties in south-central North Dakota..

Due to lack of space at the venue and technical issues, those voices remain unheard, as the Burleigh County Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm couldn’t move forward, according to the board, without full participation by all citizens.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the county was still working on setting a date, time and place for the rescheduled public hearing. A larger venue, such as the Bismarck Event Center, is being sought to accommodate the hundreds of people expected to appear, once again, before the commission.

The project

Chicago-based Pure New Energy USA is proposing to develop the 300-megawatt Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm. Through the project, about 70 wind turbines would be erected in southern Burleigh County, including Morton and Telfer townships, and northern Emmons County in an area that covers 15,000 acres.

PNE has 100 percent land control for the project, which would encompass a 7-by-8-mile area about 15 miles from Bismarck.

Several environmental studies have been completed on the project, including eagle, whooping crane and raptor nests studies.

According to PNE representative Courtney Timmons, the wind farm’s estimated economic impacts include a $13 million one-time state sales tax, annual property tax revenues of $1.1 million, landowner payments of more than $1 million per year and $400,000 annually to the Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock School District.

“The Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock School District is a really big winner in this project,” Timmons said.

As many as 300 temporary construction jobs would be created by the project, and about 10 permanent onsite jobs.

Last month, the Burleigh County Commission agreed to assume Morton Township's permitting authority for the project, to avoid a conflict of interest at the township level.

All three of the Morton Township supervisors — William Nicholson, Brian Dralle and Daymon Mills — are participating landowners in the project, so it would be a conflict of interest for the trio to decide whether or not to issue special use permits for the wind farm.

Telfer Township and Emmons County must also go through a permitting process. The Public Service Commission requires local approval before it will approve the wind farm, according to Ray Ziegler, Burleigh County's building official.

The Burleigh County Commission will, ultimately, make the decision on whether or not to allow the wind farm in Morton Township.

Voice of opposition

Julie Hornbacher, who lives in Telfer Township and is an adjacent landowner to the proposed wind farm, said she planned to speak in opposition to the project at Wednesday’s public hearing.

“It’s not the proper place to put an industrial wind farm. The area is densely populated, it’s too close to Bismarck and its airport, and it’s a property rights issue,” she said.

If the wind farm was approved and erected, the Hornbacher property would border it for 3 miles.

The landowner said she first learned about the project in October of 2015, when she received a letter in the mail from PNE, which expressed interest in leasing her family’s property.

“It’s been a long road,” she said. “Many hearings, many meetings and a lot of time and effort by many people to oppose the project.”

According to Hornbacher, not one resident of Telfer Township supports the wind farm.

“The neighborhood has really come together to oppose the project,” she said. “Although it's created a ‘wedge,’ it has also created a bond between neighbors.”

Hornbacher said she thinks the planning and zoning board made the right decision in rescheduling the public hearing.

Voice of support

Daymon Mills, a supervisor on the Morton Township Board who stands the chance of having two turbines erected on his property, said he’s in favor of the project, but not just for his personal gain.

“The community, as a whole, will benefit,” he said, noting a financial impact to the township, county and school district, among others. “We stand to get a big chunk of money for our roads, which are getting more expensive every year to maintain.”

Farmers in the area will also benefit from the turbines, according to Mills.

“I know of some fathers and sons who could use the turbines to help level the peaks and valleys in their income over the years,” he said, referring to times when commodity prices are really low and machinery and operating costs are high.

The majority of people in Morton Township support the project, according to Mills, who says he has a list of pro-wind citizens’ signatures.

Elected by township citizens, the supervisor says it’s his job to represent his electors and their property rights.

Mills said moving the public hearing to a bigger venue will allow everyone to hear, see and speak, which he says is “only fair.”

Making a decision

Burleigh County Commissioner Doug Schonert, who is also a member of the planning and zoning board, said the project is a “very controversial issue.”

“I understand both sides of it. There’s a lot of people against it, but the people who are for it have some good reasonings, too,” he said. “It’s $15,000 to $20,000 per tower per year and, if you have three towers on your property, that’s a lot of money.”

Schonert, who did not seek re-election to the county commission after serving 24 years and whose term expires Dec. 3, said decisions related to planning and zoning are “always hard.”

“So many people come in and make good arguments … and you have to make a decision. And when you make that decision, half of them love you and half of them hate you that night,” he said. “I do the best I can for the county and that’s all you can do.”