By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
CORNISH TOWNSHIP, Minn. — How long is too long?
Well, about six years— and counting — in the view of dozens of rural residents fighting a proposed 1,600-acre, 10-turbine wind farm in southern Minnesota.
“This has been going on, just hanging there, sitting there,” said Barb Wenninger, a Cornish Township resident and longtime opponent of the Sibley Wind Substation turbines. “We seem to have shown violations of their permit, and no action has been taken. That’s what it seems to us, like nothing is being resolved.”
Photographs show the grading and site preparation work done last year by SWS to keep the 20-megawatt project’s state permit largely blends in with farm fields in the area.
“They pushed a little dirt, but when we turn dirt with our plows, we turn more than they pushed,” said Wenninger. “I have pictures of weeds growing and nothing has happened. The stakes they had in the ground are gone, they took away the little shed they had there at one time. To us it seems like they’re going backwards.”
Indiana-based Wesco Wind maintains it’s all systems go. Documents show the developer worked on a 100- by 200-foot gravel lot and installed a culvert pipe and driveway for access. New paperwork filed online with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission this week indicates construction will pick up again in May 2015.
“The construction for the project was started on a timely basis as required by the MPUC permit in October of 2013. It continued to early December, until the weather became an issue and construction was delayed,” state company documents.
Wesco failed to respond to Watchdog Minnesota Bureau inquiries.
But a local legislator, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, a Republican, wants the MPUC to convene a hearing and rescind the long-standing SWS permit. In an Oct. 2 letter, Gruenhagen also asked regulators to investigate alleged “fraud and misrepresentations” in a dispute over whether pre-construction site work met state standards under the permit.
“They’re not really proceeding according to Minnesota statute,” said Gruenhagen in the letter co-signed by 53 concerned citizens. “We believe this is not consistent with Minnesota statute, as far as fulfilling the requirement for continual construction and, therefore, the permit should be revoked.”
WIND ROWS: First proposed in 2005, developers of the 10 turbine SWS project now say to expect construction to resume next May.
The MPUC first issued SWS a permit in 2008, followed by a two-year extension Oct. 12, 2011. On Oct. 11, 2013, the developer informed state regulators construction had begun, according to MPUC documents.
“During the last year, Commission staff have been monitoring this situation as well as the information supplied by the Permit Holder as part of its required monthly reports on issues raised regarding the project and the holder’s response,” Dan Wolf, MPUC management and assistance executive secretary, said in an email.
In his letter, Gruenhagen took a swipe at what he characterized as the agency’s lax oversight of the project.
“We are disappointed by the MPUC’s lack of enforcement of its own rules and permit conditions. In order to prioritize this matter with the MPUC, we are requesting a meeting with MPUC’s representatives charged with enforcing its own rules to discuss MPUC’s appropriate response,” the complaint states.
In a separate action, the Sibley County Board of Commissioners this week weighed a written request by Cornish Township officials to revoke county road permits for the project on similar grounds.
“The citizens of Sibley County entered into the Construction Agreement with Wesco with the idea that both parties would work cooperatively and in good faith to protect the community as a whole, while private party Wesco worked to profit from wind power,” Daniel Schleck, Cornish Township’s attorney, said in a letter to commissioners. “However, Wesco has failed to meet the requirements of the Construction Agreement time and time again.”
Wesco Wind refuted the township’s allegations in documents filed with the MPUC. In the meantime, Wesco continues to analyze another issue that’s still up in the air — concerns raised about the turbines’ potential impact on bats and other species.
“The spring study was completed in 2014 with positive results for constructing the wind project … At this time, the fall study is in process and results for the complete study will be available in December of this year,” according to company documents online.