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Jurisdiction of Marathon wind energy project to remain with county in ETZ expansion

City Officials agreed on Wednesday to leave the Marathon wind energy project in the jurisdiction of the county moving forward, with further negotiations and discussions proceeding on areas of interest and concern for the city's extra-territorial zone (ETZ) expansion of 2 miles.

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City of Dickinson Attorney Christina Wenko addresses the joint zoning transitional meeting, announcing that the city will leave the jurisdictional control over the Marathon Refinery and proposed wind energy project in the control of Stark County. (Photo by Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Dickinson City officials opened Wednesday’s joint zoning transitional meeting concerning the extra-territorial zone (ETZ) expansion of 2 miles by explaining that the purpose of the meeting was for members representing the interests of the city and the county to jointly weigh-in on decisions as it relates to the proposed expansion.

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A packed room of Stark County and Dickinson residents gathered for the joint zoning transitional meeting concerning the extra-territorial zone (ETZ) expansion of 2 miles on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at City Hall in Dickinson. (Photo by Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Before a significant gathering of attendees, City Attorney Christina Wenko began by welcoming the county officials to the meeting and addressing almost immediately in her opening remarks the city’s plan to leave the jurisdiction of the highly contentious and longstanding conflict between Stark County, Marathon and One Energy, as it relates to a proposed turbine site near Patterson Lake, under the jurisdiction of the county.

“I hope that it is the goal of the city as well as the county to plan for the continued growth and expansion of this community...,” Wenko said. “The best course of action this morning for the city and county is to identify particular areas of concern for the city and county and to designate which of those areas would be under the jurisdiction of the city within the ETZ and which of those areas may remain with the county. In discussions with city staff the city’s high priority areas are the airport and Patterson Lake.”

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Wenko added, “I want to make it very clear that in discussions with city staff, the city has no desire to take over the regulation or authority with regard to the application involving Marathon and its wind towers. It is the city’s position that in the event that the city reaches an agreement with the county with regard to the joint jurisdictional issues that the authority with regard to that situation remain with the county as the county has invested quite a bit of time with that issue, has knowledge of that issue and is something that the city believes should stay with the county.”

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Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud addresses the joint zoning transitional meeting regarding concerns raised by her constituents who stand to be affected by the ETZ expansion. (Photo by Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

With the jurisdiction of the project remaining in the control of Stark County, the Marathon and One Energy wind energy project faces tremendous hurdles for any hopes of moving forward as county commissioners enacted a moratorium on Sept. 13.

The latest moratorium comes after a previous moratorium faced immediate legal challenges as Marathon and One Energy requested the courts step in to what they claimed was an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” decision, “not supported by substantial evidence.”

Commissioners, in response to the legal action, immediately rescinded the initial moratorium at their July meeting, but directed that the county planning and zoning director draft a new legally sound moratorium in conjunction with the Stark County State Attorney’s Office.

According to the new moratorium in effect, development of wind energy has been halted to allow for the gathering of relevant information leading to an educated and informed decision regarding potential impacts on Stark County’s conservation of its unique wildlife, health of its waterways, commitment to its agricultural way of life, standard of living, weather conditions and leisure activities.

Stark County Commissioner Bernie Marsh said that while issues remain to be addressed, the county looks forward to addressing the ETZ expansion in open dialogue in the public eye. Marsh noted that he was pleased with the initial conversation and decision to leave the wind energy jurisdiction in the purview of the county.

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“We appreciate the city including us in the conversation. On the subject of the wind energy project, I think that it was the right move for the city to leave that in the jurisdiction of the county. It’s about perception. To some people I’m a downtown business owner and a motorcycle enthusiast, but to others I’m a bar owner and a biker. That’s their perception and as such it is their reality. The perception on the wind energy thing was that Marathon and One Energy were trying to sidestep our decisions with this expansion through the city, and the perception of this was not good for all involved,” Marsh said. “Their decision today addresses all of that. There is a lot of history on this matter, back and forth between the county, Marathon and One Energy, and I believe it was clearly the right move to take that into consideration and for the city to leave it with the county.”

Marathon Energy responded to the decision saying that they will continue to seek opportunities to work with local officials to focus on meeting growing energy needs while reducing carbon emissions.

"We do not have a position on the current ETZ conversation between city and county officials. We are aware of the meeting today and the purpose wasn’t specific to our project," Amy Nusbaum, a spokesperson with Marathon Energy, said. "We remain committed to working with local officials as we position the facility for long-term success. Our operations here allow us to enhance our local economy and contribute to a sustainable, energy-diverse future."

The next regularly scheduled Stark County Commission meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at the Stark County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 7, where continued discussions on the matter will be held.

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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