Codington County’s updated ordinance on setback distances from wind energy towers will not be amended.
The county’s five-person board of commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of an amendment offered May 8 by commissioner Lee Gabel, but the motion needed a two-thirds majority, or four yes votes, to be adopted.
The ordinance in question is 68, which Gabel called a quantum leap above its predecessor Ordinance 65. Gabel’s amendment dealt with only a small portion of Ordinance 68 — how far towers have to be from nearby residences.
The amendment called for using the recommended setback distance from the tower manufacturer as one option for county residents. He also said that residents who didn’t sign up to receive payments for hosting a tower(s) could have a setback equivalent to four times the tower height.
Gabel pointed out that the latter method could change the setback distance if tower heights continue to grow. The towers proposed for Codington and Grant counties are 500 feet tall.
The amendment was open for public discussion and 12 individuals did so, including Tyler Wilhelm, project manager for NextEra Energy, which has been gathering leases from county residents and is expected to eventually seek permission from the county and the state to begin construction.
During his statement Wilhelm hinted that NextEra may be “shifting turbines outside of Codington County” if Gabel’s amendment was approved.
The public comments were split about evenly for and against Gabel’s proposed changes.
The outcome was unchanged from the May 8 meeting when commissioners approved allowing the amendment to proceed. Gabel, Charlie Waterman and Troy VanDusen voted to approve and chairman Myron Johnson and Brenda Hanten voted against. On Tuesday the two nay notes were enough to kill the amendment.
The commissioners then voted 5-0 to approve Ordinance 68, which deals with all aspects of wind energy systems, as it was received from the county planning commission.
Although the commissioners’ opinions on Gabel’s amendment were split, they were united in their response to notification by Dakota Sioux Casino that it intended to pay $112,500 for fire and ambulance services and road maintenance for fiscal year 2018. The original scheduled payment, established in 2013, was not to exceed $225,000 for 2017 and DSC paid $150,000.
The scheduled payments can be reduced if DSC’s profits are less than the previous year, which DSC has claimed for at least two years.
Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, which operates DSC, and the county operate under a memorandum of understanding and not a contract. The tribe also has an MOU with the city, although the county and city share the tribe’s payment.
The casino is seeking to eventually increase its number of slot machines to 1,000, information that raised the ire of the commission chairman.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Johnson. “If they can’t make their payments now, why do they want (to buy) more machines. Buses just refuse to go there any more because the service is poor (and) the machines don’t pay.”
Johnson said the county has held up its end of the agreement, pointing to recent repaving of Sioux Conifer Road from S.D. Highway 20 to the casino. He also said County Road 6 that runs east from the casino to Interstate 29 will have newly paved portions this summer.
“We’re putting a lot of money into those roads and that particular area,” he continued. “I’ve never heard any complaints about the fire and ambulance service. The city has done an excellent job in responding to any of their requests.
“We’ve held up our end of the deal, by golly, and now it’s time for them to hold up their end of the deal.”
The commissioners approved a motion to send a letter, drafted by Gabel, to the Office of the Governor, General Counsel A.J. Franken, outlining their proposed plan with the casino.
County human resources director Terry Satterlee briefed the commission on contract negotiations. The unions representing the corrections officers and the deputy sheriffs, along with all non-union employees, have agreed to the county’s contract offer.
The county’s unionized highway workers, however, have not agreed and also did not agree to the outcome of mediation.
According to Satterlee, all county workers, whether members of a union or not, were given a 1.5 percent increase in pay, an increase in vacation hours, a higher payout for accrued sick leave, and increased longevity bonuses for those for have accumulated 25 years of employment.
The commissioners approved the contracts, and auditor Cindy Brugman said the highway workers will receive the increases retroactive to the start of the contract on June 1.
Jim Sutton, county emergency management director, was not on the agenda but made an emergency appearance regarding the fuel system that supplies the generator used to power the county detention center in case of city power outage.
Sutton said that after extensive testing officials believe there is a break in the line that connects a 3,000-gallon underground tank to a smaller tank where the generator is housed.
The underground tank is located near the southeast corner of the detention center, and Sutton said excavation could be very costly if the steps or a ramp leading into the center have to be removed. He’s hoping that hard freeze perhaps broke the line close to the ground level and that deeper digging won’t be needed. The bottom of the tank is at a depth of 13.5 feet.
In other action the commissioners:
• Approved a shorter description of a request for proposals for handling the county’s human resources and contract negotiation services. The description will contain a link to the county’s website and a more detailed description.
• Approved a plat change for an eight-acre parcel of property located north of Lake Pelican.
• Approved a request by facilities manager Milo Ford to refinish a bathroom floor in the county’s south expo building, using a polyethylene epoxy to cover concrete that had been heavily sanded. Tile used in the previous install had not held up, and Ford said the epoxy process will save the county $750.
• Approved a $25 cellphone for a county maintenance worker who is on-call.
• Approved the canvass of votes cast in Tuesday’s election.