County approves tower near Hills despite P&Z denial

Rock County Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for the Walleye Wind Project to construct a meteorological tower in Martin Township near Hills.

Commissioners unanimously approved the permit at their Tuesday, Sept. 4, monthly meeting, despite the fact that Rock County Planning and Zoning officials had voted against it.

Land Management Director Eric Hartman brought Walleye Wind Project’s permit request to commissioners and relayed the planning commission’s recommendation to deny the permit.

Organizers of the Walleye Wind Project proposed operating a meteorological tower in Section 18 of Martin Township to record on-site conditions for future development of a wind energy farm in southwest Rock County.

The proposed tower would be erected northwest of Hills on property owned by the Gwendolyn Sells Trust.

The commission conducted a public hearing Aug. 27 and later voted to deny the permit; however, the commission’s report didn’t cite reasons for the decision.

Commissioner Jody Reisch indicated frustration with the process.

“Just to deny something and not have a finding doesn’t sit right with me,” he said.

Six findings or questions must be posed to commission members, according to the permit application. Any affirmative answers could be cause for the permit to be denied.

Some questions include, for example:

•Would granting of the permit be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property?

•Does the project substantially diminish and impair property values?

•Does the project impede normal and orderly development?

•Will there be measures in place as to not disturb neighboring properties?

County commissioners completed the findings review and answered “no,” to each of the questions and commissioners voted to grant a conditional use permit to erect the tower.

Dana Hoffman with the county attorney’s office attended the Aug. 27 planning commission hearing as well as the Sept. 4 meeting with commissioners.

She said public input at the hearing influenced the Planning and Zoning decision to deny the permit.

About 10 individuals (six from one family) attended the hearing to oppose wind turbine construction.

“The focus maybe went beyond the scope of the application,” Hoffman said. “We were not necessarily discussing the MET tower itself but we discussed that the MET tower could lead to the placement of other wind towers and the entire project itself.”

A wind farm itself would need to clear a separate permitting process through the state.

Indecision arose over a private unlicensed airstrip located about a mile south of the proposed tower location.

“It was not made clear before the commission that the applicant did know about the airstrip when determining the placement of the MET tower,” Hoffman said.

Based on Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the MET tower’s location would not interfere with the airstrip.

Commissioner Gary Overgaard serves on the planning commission and said he wasn’t aware the hearing needed to include the review of the six findings.

Overgaard voted to deny the permit application at the planning and zoning meeting and then voted to approve the permit at the county commissioners’ meeting.

“Organization of the meeting was not conducted the way it should have been either,” Overgaard said.

“It should have been dealt strictly: This is the ordinance and the only thing we’re going to talk about tonight. It got out of hand. There were a lot of opinions expressed that influenced the decision, right or wrong.”

County Attorney Don Klosterbuer said his office along with the Land Management Office take responsibility for the meeting’s disorganization and it was no fault of the planning commission.

“I would agree with you 100 percent that we take collective responsibility for that,” Klosterbuer said. “We need to improve the quality of what we get and what we bring to you from planning and zoning and that falls on us.”

The Walleye Wind Project is a proposal of Renewable Energy Systems of Bloomfield, Colorado.

RES plans to erect 36 to 40 turbines in Martin Township and is currently contacting landowners to secure turbine locations. Completion is targeted for 2020.

In June RES received a conditional use permit to erect a meteorological tower in Section 1 of Martin Township. The planning commission recommended approving the permit to commissioners.

The second tower in Section 18 of Martin Township is similar — 197 feet tall and would include the proper alternating paint colors established by the Federal Aviation Administration. Visibility marker balls will also be installed on the tower.

With the commissioners’ approval, the conditional use permit for the second tower is good through 2023.

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