YEAR IN REVIEW: County commissioners vote to approve wind farm

ORIGINAL RUN: April 15

County Commissioners sit and listen during the special meeting on April 8 in Mott. The commissioners voted to approve the permit for the 72-turbine wind farm. (Courtesy Photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Hettinger County Commissioners approved the wind farm project north of New England. It will be a 72-turbine farm close to New England.

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor
cbenz@countrymedia.net

During a special meeting on April 8, The Hettinger County Commissioners voted to approve a conditional-use permit for the Brady Wind II project, recommended by the Hettinger County Zoning and Planning Board; the application was previously approved by the board. Both votes were unanimous. The Brady Wind II, LLC, is a 72-turbine wind farm proposed by NextEra Energy Resources.

The motion to approve the application was made by Troy Mosbrucker, with a variance to include the extra length of the wind blades, and to make sure the township roads were included in the construction process, not just county roads. The motion was seconded by Harvey Herberholz.

Following the zoning board meeting, the county commissioners gathered for a special session regarding the recommended application.

Commission Chairman John Plaggemeyer complimented on the crowd’s appropriate behavior during such a divisive meeting before discussion on the impending application vote. All commissioners acknowledged that this was a sensitive subject, and the outcome was not meant to divide the county’s residents.

“The intent today is not to separate or divide us,” Hettinger County Commissioner Ron Friedt said.

When this discussion began months ago, Hettinger County Commissioner Rob Larson charged the Zoning and Planning Board with researching as much as they could, he was satisfied with their work.

“I do think [the zoning board] asked the questions, they did to the research and they looked into it,” Larson said during the meeting. “I talked to them afterward and found that out, and so they’re informed.”

This puts to rest a lengthy process that had county members on both sides of the project voicing their opinion, some more loudly than others.

NextEra Engery opened the meeting presenting information to the nearly full courtroom at the Hettinger County Courthouse in Mott.

Public comment followed.

Many who opposed the project were worried about the sanctity of the landscape being negatively affected, while the supporters were quick to bring up the rights of property owners. One resident said that the board should approve the permit if the project falls within the boundaries of the zoning laws of Hettinger County.

Non-supporters argued that even though they are not participating—and agreeing that property owners have the right to do what they wish—that their property will be negatively affected by sight of the giant turbines.

Some gave emotionally-filled testimony, with two citizens holding back tears as they spoke.

John Wert, who had previously petitioned to alter zoning laws to require a greater distance between turbines and homes, said that he thought the only positive out of this project is money after you look at all of the negative aspects.

“We have a hard decision to make,” John Plaggemeyer said during the special meeting. “We know there will be people happy about it, and we know there will be a few people [not] happy about it.”

In the end, each county commissioner, and member of the zoning said they didn’t come to their decision in haste, and had done their due diligence in researching this project, from consulting with attorneys to contacting other states with similar wind farms. During the public comment portion of the special meeting, a resident accused the board of not asking NextEra any questions during their presentation. Board member Carson Kouba said anytime he wanted a question answered he just called the energy company himself.

“When I had questions of NextEra I called them directly, instead of waiting for [the meeting],” Kouba said at the meeting.

Plaggemeyer said he was satisfied with the decision the board and the county commission made.

“I feel very confident,” Plaggemeyer said. “I don’t have any problem with the decision.”

NextEra Energy Resources Project Directer Melissa Hochmuth wanted to thank the Hettinger County Commission and Zoning and Planning Board for how well they ran the meeting, and said she was happy with how they voted.

“We are pleased with the outcome, and we are looking forward to the benefits the project will bring,” Hochmuth said.

The next step for NextEra will be to apply to the Public Service Commission. Hochmuth told The Herald she thinks the hearing for Brady Wind II will take place sometime in late spring.

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