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Goodhue Wind granted permit with amendments

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to approve an amended site permit for the AWA Goodhue Wind project that will be constructed in Belle Creek Township, but many people at the meeting were less than thrilled with the outcome.

"I'm disgusted," Marie McNamara, co-founder of opposing group Goodhue Wind Truth, said.

She was joined by a whole host of other people who oppose the 78-megawatt turbine project, more than a dozen of whom voiced their concerns during the public comment period at the meeting.

Kristi Rosenquist of rural Zumbrota Township spoke primarily in regards to wanting an environmental review re-done because she's concerned about the avian habitat residing in the footprint of the project.

Mary Hartman shared similar concerns, saying that AWA Goodhue Wind studied eagles' nests in the area at a time of year when the nests aren't visible.

Other citizens brought up the issues of noise, shadow flicker and stray voltage from the wind turbines. Many requested that commissioners give control to local government and apply the county's ordinance to the wind project, rather than disregard it as Administrative Law Judge Kathleen Sheehy recommended a couple of months ago.

"Goodhue County knows what's good for Goodhue County," Belle Creek Township resident Bill O'Reilly said.

Comments were also heard from state Reps. Steve Drazkowski and Tim Kelly, with Drazkowski encouraging commissioners to apply Goodhue County's wind ordinance to the projecy and Kelly suggesting the commission "rule on the side of caution."

When the decision to grant the permit had been made, citizens continued to display their opposition to the project - but this time with more than just words.

Since the United States flag code says the flag may be displayed with the union down "as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property," two of the wind project opposers decided to show their distress by holding the American flag upside down for a few minutes following the meeting.

"Property is the issue here. And for some of these people, life - because of their health," explained Hartman, who was standing near the flag bearers.

One of the only citizens to stand up publicly for the wind farm was Dennis Gadient, a landowner in Belle Creek Township who has been involved since project plans started nearly two years ago. Gadient said he was speaking on behalf of some of the other landowners and investors.

"The developer has always been honest with us," he said.

Gadient was upset with some of the people opposing the project, calling them "a group that bullied their way into this."

Concerns left impressions on the five commissioners as they deliberated over whether a site permit should be approved as is or amended to handle some of the issues citizens brought forward.

Commissioners eventually decided to amend the permit before adopting it.

One amendment requires AWA Goodhue Wind to do a study of eagles and bats in the project footprint and submit survey results to the PUC. Another amendment says the wind company must "make a good faith effort to eliminate shadow flicker," which could mean using trees as buffers, suspending the wind turbines at certain times of the day or providing window shades to citizens being affected.

Also, AWA Goodhue Wind must make a good faith effort to negotiate waivers with non-participating residences and site turbines at least six rotor diameters away from those homes - a setback that is about 120 feet farther than the wind company originally planned.

"A lot of things changed in the last hour," said Joe Jennings, director of communications for National Wind, LLC, the parent company of AWA Goodhue Wind. "It's going to take us some time to figure out what all the implications are for us. We need to see the language and study it."