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Wind farm denied in Davison County

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A 9- to 11-turbine wind farm in Davison County planned to be located about 5 to 10 miles west of Mitchell has been denied.

The commission rejected the wind farm in a 4-1 vote Tuesday before an attendance of more than 50 people mixed both in support and opposition of the $40 million project to construct 446-foot turbines. Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode offered the only vote in support of the project.

The motion was made by Commissioner John Claggett and seconded by Commissioner Denny Kiner. Kiner said he was concerned with neighbors could potentially see property values decreased if the project is built by Minnesota-based Juhl Energy.

"Once this precedent is set, we could have these all over the county," Kiner said.

Despite his support of wind energy, Claggett agreed with his fellow commissioner and highlighted what he believes to be defining points of location and precedent-setting that could be a result of the project.

"I think it would be presumptuous for us as a county commission to rule on something that is a new industry," Claggett said.

Claggett said he would prefer to see the project to be decided by the public, but the commissioners did not discuss the details of putting the decision to a vote.

The proposed wind farm would have occupied a 3-mile by 1-mile stretch of Brad and Peggy Greenway's land in Beulah Township, which continued to garner heavy dissatisfaction from neighbors concerned with the project's impact on quality of life and property value.

After the project was denied, Juhl Energy's Vice President of Project Development Corey Juhl expressed his confusion and disappointment in the outcome.

"It seemed like they still don't have a full grasp of the project, unfortunately," Juhl said. "And that's sad, because you're going to miss an opportunity here."

Juhl said he provided the county with environmental impact studies and information on wind farm noise and its potential impact on property values in the year since approaching the Greenways about the project.

Juhl said the renewable energy production company will consider its options in Mitchell, but he no longer sees a future for Juhl Energy in Davison County.

"Sadly, I do think it's done," Juhl said. "I think that this will set a precedent, not only how things are being permitted in Davison County, but it sends a message to the wind industry about Davison County."

In December, the five-person commission decided to table the vote to consider the project from Juhl Energy in an effort to learn more about the project and create a setback ordinance.

The project was estimated to generate approximately $66,000 in annual production taxes which would have been distributed to the Mount Vernon and Mitchell school districts, Davison County and Beulah Township.

Brad Greenway referenced those tax benefits while attempting to urge the board to support his cause.

"We're hearing the negatives on the other side," Greenway said. "There's positives out there."

Juhl Energy's project would have been the first industrial-sized wind generation facility in Davison County and will be the company's first wholly-owned venture in South Dakota. The company has also developed 25 wind projects in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

County residents offer their input

Before commissioners made the long-awaited decision on the project, several county residents spoke in both opposition and support of the project.

One neighbor, who has repeated his concerns about the project, asked the commission how favorable the project would be if it were located near their property and wondered whether the board members had considered the potential impacts of the project on local property owners.

"I myself see that this is a situation that may, in fact, be good in some distant place and some distant future, but I do not see a benefit to me and my farming operation," Jerry Wadleigh said.

But Mark Puetz, a Davison County resident who is not a neighbor to the planned facility, spoke in favor of the project for its potential economic benefits and support of renewable energy.

"Of the options that are out there for producing power, I think this is a very clean one," Puetz said.

But Puetz was in the minority in Commission Chambers at the Davison County North Offices where several of the project's opponents continued to argue for denial of the wind farm.

Gene Stehly, who lives in the vicinity of the project's proposed site, said he was able to gather 44 signatures for people living near the Greenways who oppose the project. He said those residents, which he claimed make up approximately 95 percent of the area, should have their voices heard.

"I think the opinion of those neighbors should be of grave concern to everybody, because they are in ground zero in terms of visual impact that these 440-foot towers will have," Stehly said.

Project opponents also had the support of Travis Krumvieda, a resident who lives approximately 1,000 feet from the Prairie Winds facility near White Lake.

Krumvieda said his life has changed since several turbines were built in the vicinity of his home due to the constant noise emitted from the towers. He also said the heavy trucks used for construction of the towers "destroyed" the roads near his home.

"They've got their place in the world, but for knowing what my place was like before the construction of the towers come up and what it is now, it changes your way of life," Krumvieda said.

But Juhl and the Greenways had a handful of supporters aside from Puetz at Tuesday's meeting, including Mitchell Technical Institute wind turbine technology student Brandon Moore.

Moore told the commission he received a Build Dakota scholarship, which supports students getting an education in high-need areas in the state if graduates work in their industry in South Dakota for three years after graduation. Moore said the Juhl Energy project would give him a second local wind farm, aside from the Prairie Winds facility, where he could work after graduation.

Despite comments from Puetz, Moore and Doug and Brad Greenway, the commission decided to side with the majority in attendance Tuesday.

Other business

• Approved a variance permit for Greg Robinson, denied a variance permit and a plat requested by Jerome McNary, approved a plat of the Wild Oak Golf Club from Firesteel Links, LLC and approved a plat in the Backlund Addition at the request of Firesteel Links, LLC.

• Approved minor adjustments to the Davison County Fairground Rental Agreement.

• Approved a 50 cent probationary wage increase for a Davison County Sheriff's Office employee.

• Approved a road striping agreement.

• Discussed the possibility of changing the Davison County Commission meeting schedule from weekly meetings to twice monthly meetings with the addition of special meetings as needed. No decision was made on Tuesday.

• Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke recommended new timeclocks for all county departments. No formal action was made on Tuesday.

• Approved bills, timesheets, abatements, the auditor's account with the treasurer, acknowledged volunteers, a $545.06 grant for the Sheriff's Office for highway enforcement and authorized the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to utilize the Davison County Fairgrounds for gun safety training in March, May, August and September.