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Top 10, No. 8: Solar garden in a wetland is a no-go, for now ...

Residents listened while Wacouta Town Board members discussed the future of the Wildwood Lane Solar Garden during a May 2017 meeting. Kit Murray / Rivertowns Multimedia

The winded timeline for a 5 megawatt solar garden in a wetland trudges on. After obtaining a number of land-use approvals, the final step for GreenMark Solar was to visit with the Wacouta Town Board and obtain the last seal of approval.

Due to strong opposition, the question remains whether the solar garden would ultimately support an agricultural community.

Goodhue County court granted the Wacouta Township's motion summary judgment last month against GreenMark Solar, meaning the township has full right to deny the company the right to build a solar garden in the area. The decision opens the door for GreenMark to seek a repeal or accept defeat.

Due to the township denying a conditional-use permit, GreenMark filed a lawsuit against the municipality to begin working on Wildwood Solar Garden at 29121 Wildwood Lane. The company already had county approval to go forward.

But the ruling stated, "The Township was justified in requiring GreenMark to obtain a CUP because the Township has independent zoning authority from the County."

Since GreenMark failed to obtain a WAcouta permit, the lawsuit goes on to identify that the company could lose its nearly $1 million deposit with Xcel Energy.

With a variety of concerns, the biggest issue vocalized by neighbors of the project reflected the potential hazards of a solar garden within the wetland area, owned by Howard Stenerson.

"This project will increase fire risk, there is methane in the soil in the peat," said Wacount resident Jonathan Peterson during a County Board meeting in March. "It will get hit by lightning many, many times," he said.

The court order stated that GreenMark's strongest argument was to use 60 percent of the property for pollinator habitat. However, it states, that is not the primary intent of a community solar garden.

GreenMark argued that the township ordinance is inconsistent as a matter of law and different in nature than Goodhue County's standards, including that the alternative argument is legally ambiguous. The court noted, however, that the term "agricultural community" is not "so vague as to be unenforceable."

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. 

(651) 301-7874
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