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Wind farm application rejected by Billings County Commission

Billings County Commissioners Joseph Kessel, Jim Arthaud ad Mike Kasian listen to public comment during a special meeting for a proposed wind farm in Billings County. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)1 / 2
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Wendy Ross speaks to the commission during the special hearing for Charlie Creek on Tuesday. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)2 / 2

MEDORA—Billings County Commissioners rejected the application for a 114-turbine wind farm on Tuesday.

Orion Renewable Energy Group presented its zoning application for Charlie Creek Wind Farm to a crowded courtroom audience and the commissioners.

The 383-megawatt project was proposed to be located in northeast Billings County near North Dakota Highway 95 and would have began three miles north of Fairfield and extended the county line one mile south of ND Highway 200.

This would have been Orion's first wind farm in North Dakota—which they have been working on for two years now.

Joy Gregory, landowner in the project footprint, voiced her support of the project.

"As landowners, we feel we have the right to have them on our land," she said. "Some people have oil wells on their land, but we were not one of those fortunate people."

Gregory said that the additional income that would have been provided from turbines being on their property would have helped their farming operation and ensured the land would have been in the family for many years.

Karen O'Brien said it was time to start looking to the future of energy.

"Our world is ever-changing, and we need to start looking at renewable energy sources to enhance North Dakota and the United States, for that matter," she said.

The majority of the audience voiced concern over the proposed wind farm, sighting the visual impacts as a deterrent for tourism, potential decrease in land value and the proximity of the towers to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

"We take care of all of the cultural and natural resources of the park for this and future generations," said Wendy Ross, TRNP superintendent. "We are impacting the public land of the United States."

Chad Sexton, geographical information system analyst for TRNP, said that the wind towers would be visible from the park and the visitor center.

"Within the Painted Canyon area there is a probable chance of being able to see anywhere from 26 to 50 turbines," he said. "In the South Unit the maximum amount of turbines we could see would be 75 potentially."

"This project, in my opinion, has got too many impacts to our county and to our citizens in different uses of our economy from ridgeline, to tourism, to being able to see it at the Painted Canyon, to the neighbors that are directly affected by it," said Jim Arthaud, district 3 commissioner. "It's hard for me to sit up here and talk about, as a commissioner, what a landowner can and can't do on their land. But I just think the magnitude of this project in our county, the visual impacts it will have on western North Dakota is just more than the county can bear."

Commissioner Joe Kessel was omitted from voting because of a conflict of interest which left only Commissioners Arthaud and Mike Kasian to make the decision for the county.

After Arthaud's motion, Kasian seconded the motion—resulting in the denial of the application.

Andrew Makee, associate project manager for Orion, said it was a shocking decision and that the main concern now is with the landowners who agreed to the project.

"Honestly, the most disappointing part is for the landowners—25,000 acres of landowners, that won't have this opportunity," he said.