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Solar garden vote tabled for 60 days

Commissioner Drotos stated he did not feel comfortable voting on an item that was not given enough time to discuss or research. (photo by Kit Murray)

Wacouta Township residents continued to voice concerns over the proposed Wildwood Solar Garden at a public hearing Tuesday in the Goodhue County Government Center. A vote on the project application was tabled until next month.

Before the hearing, Mark Andrew representing GreenMark Solar as the applicant and Howard Stenerson, the landowner, discussed with the board what their project plan entails.

"The goal is to generate clean, renewable energy," Andrew said.

The project would entail installing 22,410 solar panels within a 43.1 acre wetland in Wacouta Township.

"I want control of that property, that's why I have a lease on it," Stenerson said. "I've ran it for 22 years now. I have watched this company (GreenMark Solar) be very concerned about our plan."

The wetland area has a large peat component to the soil and portions of the project show diverse wetland vegetation.

Andrew noted that he has not done a large amount of peat mining. He stated he has looked into development and decided not to pursue any sort of industrial mining in order to avoid the impact.

Citizens oppose

A few concerns citizens raised surrounding the Wildwood Solar Garden included noise and vibrations emitted from the solar garden during construction, wetland wildlife being negatively impacted and the potential for the project to be unappealing to the public.

"I believe he (Stenerson) should have to buy credits for the whole wetland," said Beth Keller, a resident of Wacouta Township. "He can not promise that the whole wetland will not be destroyed by this project. There's no precedent on how to handle a fire. You as the board are doing a disservice to the community by putting the residents in such an unknown risk."

Jonathan Peterson, a resident from Wabasha, brought up the concern of possible invasive species being introduced at the project and potential arsenal risks.

"This project will greatly increase fire risk, obviously there's methane in the soil in the peat," Peterson said. "I was a radio station engineer in two different cities. It will get hit (by lightning) many, many times."

John Falconer, owner of Falconer Vineyards and Kirk Stensrud, owner of Round Barn Farm Bed and Breakfast, noted their concern for the solar garden to impact tourism in the area.

Decision by the board

"I think one of the issues about wetlands is the sanctity and preservation," Commissioner Paul Drotos said. "We have seen information concerning the process and outcomes. Without having entire exposure to this, I'm uncomfortable with it."

With information being released later than expected, Drotos and other commissioners agreed that it was too early to make an informed decision. At the next meeting, commissioners proposed that those conducting research behind the solar garden discuss more about the potential risks.

"If this goes forward and in that process the wetlands get messed up, what is our responsibility to say stop, you can't go any further," Anderson said. "Is there an option in that process?"

The board unanimously approved to table the item until the next meeting, April 4 at 5 p.m.

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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