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Local labor union representatives Nathan Brandt, right, Steve Cortina, center, and Lucas Franco spoke in favor of a large wind farm project in  Burleigh and Emmons counties at a press conference in the Bismarck Event Center on Wednesday. The wind farm project would provide 300 temporary jobs for local workers, according to the representatives.

As a public hearing on the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm is expected to proceed today at the Bismarck Event Center, a trade union has decided to throw its weight behind the project being spearheaded by Chicago-based Pure New Energy USA. Forty to 50 union members plan to attend the public meeting scheduled for 5:15 p.m.

“It just brings a lot of money to the community,” said Steve Cortina, of the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 563.

And in fact, Nathan Brandt’s first job as a heavy equipment operator with the Operating Engineers Local 49 was at a wind farm in Forbes.

Labor has habitually supported wind farm projects proposed in the state, Brandt said: “We basically follow the PSC around.”

Union members indicated they see opposition to the projects they support but more so this time. Brandt said the unions understand the point of view of neighbors who are against the projects, but the workers try to be conscientious when they’re there and they highlight the economic benefit.

LiUNA researcher Lucas Franco estimates local workers employed at the wind farm during construction would contribute $10 million to $12 million in direct spending back into the area as a result of their employment. Developer PNE said it expects to hire 300 people for construction of the wind farm and it plans to find those workers locally.

LiUNA has about 150 members who live in the Bismarck-Mandan area and 400 members statewide, Cortina said. The operators have 500 within a 100 mile radius, with about 25 to 30 crane operators and about the same number of heavy equipment operators in Bismarck-Mandan, Brandt said. There are also ironworkers, millwrights and carpenters.

The proposed 250-megawatt project will have from 65 to 75 wind turbines, depending on the final technology that’s selected for the project. The height of the wind turbines is expected to be between 450 and 570 feet tall, similar to the height or slightly taller than the turbines in the Bison 4 project in Oliver County.

The project area is about 15,000 acres in southern Burleigh County, including Morton and Telfer townships, and northern Emmons County.

Cortina said, whether PNE opts to hire union workers or not, the unions want to step out and show their support for the project’s benefit to all North Dakota construction workers.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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