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The Burleigh County Commission voted 4-1 Monday to deny special use permits in Morton Township for the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm, as recommended by the county planning and zoning board.

Prior to the vote, the commission considered sending the matter back to planning and zoning, as requested by Pure New Energy USA, the company proposing to develop the 70-turbine wind farm in southern Burleigh and northern Emmons counties.

“I think this has gone on long enough … I just don’t feel comfortable sending it back and creating more workload for our people,” said Commissioner Kathleen Jones, who made the motion to deny permits for the project.

Courtney Timmons, PNE's director of business development, said he’s “very disappointed” with the decision.

“We think this is a very dark day for property rights in North Dakota,” he said. “Essentially, we have a wind project here that is following the rules, it’s following the ordinance and the land is zoned for this type of use. So, essentially, these landowners’ property rights … they only go as far as what their neighbors are willing to agree to.”

Ray Ziegler, Burleigh County's building official, says both parties – landowners and adjacent landowners – have equal rights.

“There is a place for property rights, but also when you adopt zoning and ordinances, it gives other property owners, even, somewhat equal rights,” he said. “If you’re doing something that affects your neighbor, you have a right. And that’s why you adopt zoning and ordinances to help protect you.”

In October, the county commission agreed to assume Morton Township's permitting authority for the wind farm because all three of the township supervisors are participating landowners in the project.

Before taking final action, the commission reviewed a letter from the Burleigh County State’s Attorney’s Office, which recommended the matter be sent back to the planning and zoning board.

“The (planning and zoning board’s recommendation) report was insufficient, in my opinion, for this board to make a decision on … there were so many inconsistencies regarding what was brought forward,” said Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer. “My opinion is you’re going to get sued no matter what decision you make.”

Burleigh County Commission Chairman Brian Bitner, who stated he was in favor of following Lawyer’s advice, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Following the commission’s denial, the room erupted into cheers and applause as audience members wearing red shirts, representing opposition to the project, celebrated.

Andy Buntrock, of Menoken, said his property would’ve been surrounded by three turbines on all sides had the project moved forward. His wife, KariAnn, has a seizure disorder, which he said was his No. 1 reason for opposing the wind farm.

“We’re so glad … the process was able to work and we’re glad at the outcome,” he said.

Laurie Rogstad, who is a landowner in both Burleigh and Emmons counties, said she was surprised by the commission’s decision.

“I’m excited,” she said. “Hopefully, we can put this to rest and get back to normal. It’s been three years.”

Proponent Ryan Dralle, a third-generation Morton Township farmer, said the project would’ve helped his family, financially.

“PNE has followed the rules. We, as landowners, have followed the rules but apparently that’s not enough,” he said. “The county is setting a bad precedent with this. How do we support private property rights moving forward? It’s our land.”

PNE will continue to develop the project, Timmons said after the meeting.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat and we’ll just continue evaluating what those options look like and we’ll pick the best one to move forward,” he said.

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(Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)​

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