Thursday, November 10, 2016

Commissioners deny Wind Renewal

By Will Bublitz

Considering the renewal of a building permit for a wind energy project and the hiring of a new Emergency Manager for Lincoln County were among the issues handled by the Board of County Commissioners during its Monday, Nov. 7 meeting.

The wind energy project discussed Monday was the Nereo GC Lincoln, LCC, Wind Energy Generation Facility that was supposed to be built north of Arriba. The development permit for that 176-tower project was originally approved by the commissioners on December 8, 2014, but construction has not yet begun. 

Luis Matheus, President of Soleo Energy Consulting, had been scheduled to discuss the renewal of the county’s building permit for the wind energy project with the commissioners, but he was unable to attend Monday’s meeting.

Jeff Coonts, the county’s new Land Use Administrator, was present. He explained the Nereo GC Lincoln Wind Energy Generation Facility had already requested and received a one-year extension of the permit in December 2015, which is allowed under the county’s current zoning regulations. Extending it a second year is not covered by those regulations.

Stan Kimble, the county’s attorney, agreed and explained that permits have “a limited life.” He also pointed out the board’s approval of the permit covered only the wind farm and not any proposed transmission line.

After further discussion, the board unanimously voted to deny a further extension of the building permit for the Nereo GC Lincoln, LLC project. If the project’s developers want to obtain another permit, the commissioner said they must go through the application process once again. This includes making a presentation to the county’s Land Use Board and then undergoing a public hearing before the commissioners can grant an approval.

Also during Monday’s meeting, the commissioners approved the appointment of Richard Johnson as the new Lincoln County Emergency Manager. That position was previously held by John DeWitt, who had also served as the county’s Land Use Administrator.

In accepting that new position, Johnson said he also intends to continue working as the Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator for Lincoln County Public Health, which is a 35-hour-per-week position. This raised some concerns with County Administrator Gary Ensign who said Johnson might end up working about 60 hours a week.

In response, Johnson explained his years of experience in the military, law enforcement and emergency medical response had made him more than qualified for the new position. He also said his efficiency in his administrative duties at Public Health would allow him the extra time needed to devote to the Emergency Manager’s position.

“I know that I can do this job,” he said.

Also present for the discussion were Sheriff Tom Nestor and Undersheriff Gordon Nall. They told Johnson that to be an effective Emergency Manager, he would have to learn all about the infrastructure and procedures involved in the county’s emergency communications and 911 system. Johnson agreed to work with them to learn these details.

Sue Kelly, Lincoln County’s Public Health Director, said she fully supported Johnson’s decision to continue to work in her office while also doing the Emergency Manager’s job. She said other small counties in Colorado, such as Cheyenne County, have combined positions where the Emergency Manager also works in the Public Health office.

“I firmly believe this is a doable position,” Kelly said.

After further discussion about duties and salary, the commissioners decided to appoint Johnson as the Director of the Office of Emergency Management. The appointment becomes effective January 1, 2017 and will be subject to a six-month review. The board’s decision was not unanimous with Commissioner Greg King casting a dissenting vote.

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