Revised regulations for wind energy systems in Codington County remain in limbo.
Ordinance 68 dealing with wind energy had its second reading Tuesday and could have been approved at the county commission meeting.
Commissioner Lee Gabel, however, proposed an amendment that essentially increases the distance towers must be located from the properties of both those who will accept towers on their land and those who won’t.
On a 3-2 vote the commissioners agreed to take action on the amendment at their June 7 meeting. They could not do so Tuesday because the public must be allowed time to view the changes.
Gabel, Troy VanDusen and Charlie Waterman voted in favor of the motion and Myron Johnson and commissioner Brenda Hanten voted against.
To become part of Ordinance 68, the amendment will need to pass on a 4-1 vote, which seemed unlikely Tuesday because both Johnson and Hanten, also members of the county’s planning commission, were adamantly against it.
The planning commission was in charge of rewriting Ordinance 68, which is based upon the county’s Ordinance 65, adopted in 2016. Because of the controversy surrounding wind energy systems, the planning commission has listened to many hours of public testimony before hammering out the details of the ordinance.
Gabel acknowledged and praised the planning commission’s work but believes his amendment, which includes setbacks somewhat dependent on tower height, would add flexibility to the ordinance.
“All of these (changes) are about balancing the constitutional right to the quiet enjoyment of your property with the right to do as you want with your property,” said Gabel. “The trick of zoning is trying to thread that needle.
“I’m not trying to derail anything, but I think if we add a little more to it we can make this ordinance a bit more long-lasting, more durable and maybe thread that needle just a little bit better.”
But Johnson and Hanten each said the amendment would undercut the many hours the planning commission has put forth in developing Ordinance 68.
“By offering this amendment we’re kind of saying they didn’t know what they were doing,” said Johnson. “But they did know what they were doing, and they’ve taken a lot of time, lot of effort and they’ve heard a lot of testimony in making their decision. And the decision they made is in front of us right now, and we need to honor that decision.
“We need to move forward, and that’s why I will not support your amendment.”
Since Tuesday was the second and final reading of the ordinance, state law requires that the public be given a chance to comment on it. Twenty-one individuals from an overflow crowd at the commissioners chambers did so.
At the beginning of the commentary Johnson noted that he had already heard 18 hours of public testimony during his work on the planning commission. He limited Tuesday’s session to one hour, although about 70 minutes were used.
Twelve people spoke against wind energy systems, generally citing complaints about the dangers to the well-being of humans, wildlife and wildlife habitat, devaluation of property, liability concerns during the lifespans of the wind turbine generators and afterwards, and the damage to the aesthetic quality of the landscape.
Nine people spoke in favor, primarily because of the lease money companies will be paying to place wind turbines on private land. Those dollars will not only go to the property owners but also local schools, county governments and the State of South Dakota.
Speaking in favor was Tyler Wilhelm of NextEra Energy, which has been obtaining leases for towers for the proposed Crown Ridge Wind and Crown Ridge Wind II projects, which are expected to include portions of Codington, Grant and Deuel Counties.
NextEra, based in Juno, Fla., has not approached Codington County regarding the permitting process but is expected to do so in the near future.
Apex Clean Energy of Virginia has been permitted by Codington and Grant Counties for its Dakota Range Wind project but has not yet received permission from the S.D. Public Utilities Commission.
Tuesday’s second reading of Ordinance 68 wasn’t the only docket item but by far it drew the most interest. The commissioners also approved:
• Renewing the malt beverage licenses of the Southfork Lounge, Rauville Station, Rooster Bar and Dakota Sioux Casino;
• The annual agreement for striping of county roads and highways, and
• A payment of $43,855 for the Women, Infant, Children (WIC) nutrition program.
In other discussions auditor Cindy Brugman said her office is busy preparing for the upcoming June election, noting that about 400 absentee ballots have already been cast. She also said Republican election workers are needed in Elmira, Germantown and Rauville townships and Democrat workers in Germantown and Rauville.
Gabel noted that separate bids can be entered by contractors for plumbing and sprinklers for the courthouse’s new fire prevention system. Bids will be opened May 15.