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YOURS: Wind-energy projects bring challenges

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I have been invited to speak at a wind energy workshop scheduled for the morning of Oct. 2 at the Western Heritage Center in Spearfish. This workshop is a valuable public service to South Dakota and the local West River areas affected by anticipated wind farm projects. The workshop should also be of interest to state, county and community elected officials.

Energy projects are a three-cornered hat: The developer, the landowner and the government. Infrastructure matters managed by government agencies arising out of a new development project are equally as important as efforts to obtain fair and just easements and agreements for landowners. Government agencies are in the front lines of any new project coming to town. Local public leaders are the decision-makers on key issues in order that a new energy project might become a successful neighbor in the community.

Planning and a broader vision for these new projects is required. The world of "new energy" affects us all in broader ways than first comes to mind. There are now 11 large wind farms operating in the state with more expected. These supply electricity to more than just South Dakota. In 1945 Harry Truman said, “The world is no longer county-sized, no longer state-sized, and no longer nation-sized. It is a world in which we all must get along.”

In 2012 Gov. Daugaard created an oil and gas development preparedness group. The recommendations of this group apply to all new energy projects in the state. One of the report findings was, “Proper management of traffic patterns, the use or overuse of certain roads, arrangements for maintenance and repair of haul roads caused by a development project and the like are local government problems.”

These recommendations have not been adequately heeded by local officials. By way of examples, Butte County, the location of a proposed new wind farm, has no siting ordinances dealing with the construction of a wind farm; and Pennington County wind farm ordinances have no requirement for insurance coverage during the operation of a wind farm and have no mandate for an operator’s financial surety for excessive wear and tear in use of public roads during construction and operation of a wind farm (Meade County requires this).

This lack of planning should change. Some of these topics will be discussed at the workshop. Infrastructure planning by way of both 1) agreements with developers regarding maintenance and road repair based on increased usage and 2) ordinances essential to a region’s successful hosting of an energy project should be on the table.

The use and demands upon county and township highways and roads are an important case in point. Without effective agreements with a developer and without proper siting ordinances directed to the unique concerns of a large wind farm, the stress on highways and roads is significant and often overlooked. This is a particular issue for counties and townships.

A couple of years ago I was working with a tribal committee chair at the Fort Berthold reservation. He discussed the financial problems he had with recent deterioration of the reservation highways because of heavy oil patch traffic. I asked him the best way to deal with this new problem. His answer was short and simple. "Planning," he said.

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