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Judge upholds decision blocking massive solar project in south Butte

The Montana Standard|Mike Smith|July 29, 2022
MontanaLegalPhotovoltaic Solar

But in a 12-page order issued Friday afternoon, District Judge Luke Berger upheld the Zoning Board’s 5-0 ruling in July 2021. It denied a special use permit for a proposal to install 700,000 solar panels on land south and west of Butte’s southern industrial park to help power a cryptocurrency-mining operation. Even though the board focused on public comment as a key reason for rejecting the special use permit, the judge said, it did not mean other factors were not considered.


A judge’s ruling Friday upheld a decision by the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board blocking a giant, controversial solar project that would have sprawled across part of south Butte.

Lawyers representing the $250 million solar undertaking had argued that the board was unduly influenced by strong public opposition to the proposal and by the project’s potential impact to neighbors.

In an appeal to state District Court, they said the board had neglected 18 other criteria, as well as public support for the project from Montana Technological University and others, and had failed to provide adequate written explanation for its denial.

But in a 12-page order issued Friday afternoon, District Judge Luke Berger upheld the Zoning Board’s 5-0 ruling in July 2021. It denied a special use permit for a proposal to install 700,000 solar panels on land south and west of Butte’s southern industrial park to help power a cryptocurrency-mining operation.

Even though the board focused on public comment as a key reason for rejecting the special use permit, the ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

A judge’s ruling Friday upheld a decision by the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board blocking a giant, controversial solar project that would have sprawled across part of south Butte.

Lawyers representing the $250 million solar undertaking had argued that the board was unduly influenced by strong public opposition to the proposal and by the project’s potential impact to neighbors.

In an appeal to state District Court, they said the board had neglected 18 other criteria, as well as public support for the project from Montana Technological University and others, and had failed to provide adequate written explanation for its denial.

But in a 12-page order issued Friday afternoon, District Judge Luke Berger upheld the Zoning Board’s 5-0 ruling in July 2021. It denied a special use permit for a proposal to install 700,000 solar panels on land south and west of Butte’s southern industrial park to help power a cryptocurrency-mining operation.

Even though the board focused on public comment as a key reason for rejecting the special use permit, the judge said, it did not mean other factors were not considered.

“The size and scope of this project is not disputed and despite positive attributes, negative attributes are present in the record,” Berger wrote in his ruling. The board, he said, was not required to “create a tally.”

“The Board heard significant comment and received detailed reports pertaining to the entirety of the criterion they were to consider,” the ruling said. “Failing to address them specifically does not convince the Court they did not consider the information.

“Rather the Court concludes they were considered but were not dispositive to the board’s decision.”

The judge also rejected claims the board’s decision was fatally flawed because its members did not give detailed, written reasons for it. He said that was a procedural matter and not grounds for overturning the decision.

A special use permit would have allowed FX Solutions to build the project. FX Solutions would have leased the land from the Gozden-McDermott Cattle Co. and sold the solar array’s power to Atlas Power, a cryptocurrency-mining facility.

Rick Tabish’s FX Solutions built the Atlas Power data center in south Butte. It is owned by Kevin Washington, son of billionaire industrialist Dennis Washington.

Such facilities use immense amounts of energy and Washington has said he would use power from the Basin Creek Solar Project for Atlas Power and buy the solar project once completed. Any extra electricity could be put on the grid and sold.

Washington has described plans to expand Atlas Power and the Butte Local Development Corp. and others backed the solar project, citing potential economic benefits it could generate.

But opponents decried possible impacts to viewsheds, property values and wildlife and the potential for noise pollution, along with other concerns.

In denying the project, Zoning Board members cited the pure size of the array, saying it would undeniably change the landscape of those who live in the Little Basin Creek area. They said the public’s strong opposition carried weight but said other factors were considered.

They also said they supported green energy and could get on board with a smaller version of the proposal in an area less intrusive to people’s way of life.

Neither attorneys Peter Lacny nor Joseph Casillas, who represented the petitioners during the hearing before Judge Berger, could be reached Friday afternoon for comment about the ruling.

Attempts to reach project opponents Bonnie Yeo and John and Sandi Roesti were also unsuccessful.

In May 2021, Sandi Roesti told The Montana Standard about her opposition.

“If that goes in we’re going to see a sea of black,” she said. “As for solar panels, we have them on our motorhome. We’re all for that, but not 1,600 acres.”

Content truncated due to possible copyright. Use source link for full article.


Source:https://mtstandard.com/news/l…

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