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Special election halted by court

In a ruling that threw a wrench in the works of the special election concerning wind turbine setbacks in Walworth County, Judge Scott Myren has halted the Tuesday, Aug. 8 election. According to Walworth County State’s Attorney Jamie Hare, a group of land owners had filed a referendum to stop the election on several facts. Those included one of the four signature petitions filed was incorrectly dated by the Notary Public when she notarized the papers. Instead of June 12, she dated one of petitions July 12. Another of the issues was that one voter had signed two separate petitions, but Hare said that factor was not taken into consideration in the ruling. The third factor was the interpretation of the required number of signatures needed to force a special election on the issue. Hare said the attorney for the landowners had argued that the interpretation of S.D. Statute 71815 requiring that number of signatures required for a valid petition be 5 percent of voters in the previous election. Hare said the statute was further clarified in #12434 that states the registered voters referred to in other statues includes the number of active voters. Registered voters that are inactive are not included in that number. According to Hare, Walworth County Auditor had contacted the South Dakota Secretary of State to reiterate that the required number for this petition was 188. She received confirmation that that was the required number. Hare said the election has been stopped and the ruling stands unless there is an appeal to that ruling. He said the ruling could be sent back down to the court on appeal. “But this ruling also included the mistaken date on the petitions,” said Hare. “But in other cases the intent of the voters has been more liberally construed in those rulings.” Hare said the notary told the judge she had just made a mistake and the petitions were filed at the same. Michele Harrison, executive director of the Mobridge Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) who filed the said she waiting for a response from her board members concerning an appeal. She said according to Attorney General Marty Jackley with whom she has spoken, there could be a motion for reconsideration filed in the case to review the ruling, but that has to come from the state’s attorney. The petition to bring the required setback ordinance to a vote of the people was filed because of a concern that the ordinance sends a message that Walworth County in not open to development projects as Harrison told the Walworth County Commission during a public hearing. She told the commissioners it is the opinion of MEDCO that the two-mile setback sends the wrong message to others who may consider Walworth County for future projects. Landowners have told the commissioners they want the required setbacks at the two-mile limit for a number of reasons including health and safety. The commissioners passed Walworth County Ordinance #2017-1, amending county ordinance #83-2, establishing zoning regulations for Walworth County on May 10, 2017. According to the new ordinance wind turbines have to meet the following minimum spacing requirements: • A distance at 10,560 feet or 2 miles from existing off-site residence, business and churches. Distance from other existing buildings or structures shall be at least 1,000 feet and distance from on-site or lessor’s residence shall be a least 500 feet. • The distance from the edge of a public right of way must be 200 percent of the height of the wind turbine. The vertical height of the wind turbine is measured from the ground surface to the tip of the blade when in fully vertical position. • The distance from any property line shall be two hundred percent 200 percent of the height of the wind turbine. The ordinance stands as it was adopted if and until further action is through the courts. – Katie Zerr –