Event Title: Concerned about the Solar Farm that's coming to Walworth County?

Date: 09-28-2023

Time: 5 - 7 PM

May be an image of text that says 'Open to the Walworth Public! Concerned Cancomed Residents of INFORMATIONAL County Counly MEETING: HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND HAVE YOUR VOICE BE HEARD! September 25th AKASKA COMMUNITY CENTER AKASKA, SD 7 PM September 28th EDGE EVENT CENTER MOBRIDGE SD PM'

 

09/25/2023 at the Akaska Community Center, 109 Main St, Akaska, SD

09/28/2023 at the Edge Event Center, 1708 West Grand Crossing, Mobridge, SD

 

Walworth County residents call for solar farm ordinance

By Sarah Parkin

Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 5:48 PM CDT

WALWORTH COUNTY, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A 3,200 acre solar farm is set to come to Walworth County, but residents are concerned after the possibility of an ordinance was scrapped.

For those looking to find a rural area to fish or camp along the Missouri River, the lodging community of New Evarts is the perfect place.

The home page of the New Evarts Lodge website offers specific directions on how to get there, as it can only be accessed through a few miles of gravel roads and farm land. Once you turn onto 135th Street and get past the Web Water Treatment Plant, your view will be filled with scenic rolling hills that stretch down to the Missouri River.

By 2025, however, that view will look much different.

That’s because Doral, LLC plans to construct a 3,200 acres solar farm on that land. The Oahe Solar project will generate 355 megawatts of clean and renewable electricity.

For Walworth County residents, the project isn’t the problem. The problem is where the project will be, and how little protection the residents feel they have.

The tension in Walworth County started when residents found out there was a solar farm ordinance in the works only five days before it was set to be reviewed by the Walworth County Commission. That’s also when residents became aware of the project.

At the Walworth County Commission meeting on April 6, the discussion between residents and the commissioners became heated after concerns were raised that input from the solar company was considered in the ordinance, but concerns of residents wasn’t. The Walworth County Commission said no input from Doral was considered in the ordinance.

At the next meeting on April 18, Walworth County Commission Chair James Houck announced that any action on a solar ordinance was going to be suspended.

”After the dog and pony show we had here last meeting, where we were accused of trying to ram these ordinances down the public’s throat... I have decided, and I’ve talked to the boys here, we’re just going to take the solar ordinances off the table,” said Houck.

That week, over 100 Walworth County residents gathered in Akaska to discuss their concerns.

The residents aren’t against a solar project and respect the property rights of the landowners who signed an easement with Doral, but they are concerned that no ordinance in place makes them vulnerable.

”Nobody here is against solar, and we’re not against private property use. I’m all for private property rights, and you can do anything on your property, but when it affects the neighbor’s property, it’s a concern for the neighbor, and it should be. We don’t have an organized group because we’re not trying to fight anything coming, but we want the commissioners to protect the residents and the interests of the residents and the taxpayers and the people who live here and farm here,” said Brian Beaman, a farmer whose property is adjacent to the solar farm site.

Among the many concerns residents have is that the solar farm will have an impact on tourism.

“Out here, our land and our area is known for its hunting and fishing and recreation. If we have a solar farm, then those animals and things are not available,” said Pam Wells, a teacher at Mobridge Public School.

Chad Schilling is a local hunting and fishing guide, and said the solar farm will be in a location that could impact his business.

”Location, it just seems like if you were going to pick the worst possible location to put something like this, we nailed it. We got that done. I just don’t understand how it’s even a conversation when you’re sitting above one of the best fisheries in the country. People shouldn’t be told what they can’t do on their own property. Just make sure that when they do it on their property, it doesn’t infringe and wreck other people’s livelihoods,” said Schilling.

The impact on tourism might be most felt in New Evarts.

”I don’t think anybody is going to want to live right next to this huge industrial project. In the summertime, New Evarts is a very very happening place in this community. I don’t think people are going to want to be there with this right across the road from them,” said Jesse Hubner, a cattle rancher who lives just a few miles from the Walworth County line in Campbell County.

Another concern is fires, especially a potential thermal runaway fire that could start from the 20 planned acres of lithium batteries.

”It sounds like the batteries are going to be within a mile of our house. So, that’s a big concern knowing that our county is not prepared for something like that if it goes wrong,” said Tabitha Kulm, who farms and ranches with her husband David on a property adjacent to the solar farm site.

If a fire does start, the resources in the county might not be able to handle the rate that the fire could spread. Being in a rural area also means outside help could be hours away.

“What if something burns? The burning of it, the toxic fumes from the lithium batteries that are being stored on 20 acres, do we have a facility or do we have a company that can come in and take care of it? Are these things addressed on the ordinance?” said Wells.

Another concern is a fire that could be started on a neighboring farm that accidentally gets spread to the solar farm site, and the question of who would be held responsible for damages.

“If we don’t have ordinances that protect the farmers and the interests, the person who starts it, the farmer, you’re liable. It will put you out of farming just for the liability concerns alone. You can’t take the risk of doing it,” said Beaman.

The biggest concern of all is that Web Water Treatment Plant. Residents fear the runoff or any erosion could impact the water system that services a majority of northeastern South Dakota.

It also could impact the Missouri River.

“The runoff from here will eventually end up in the Missouri. The Missouri is just not for here, it’s just not for the water that’s going to get to Aberdeen, it’s also going to get to the point where we have to worry about the contaminants going downstream,” said Wells.

Wells said she did her research, and the Walworth County Commission should too.

”All I’m asking is to research. Research and become informed. I guess that’s what I did. I researched, I became more informed about it and I realized we need to do more. We need to protect the residents of Walworth County,” said Wells.

Overall, the residents of Walworth County just want some protections put in place.

“We don’t want to stop a solar project from coming into Walworth County. We want the commissioners to enact ordinances that protect the rights of the residents and the taxpayers of the county. When every farmer or rancher that surrounds it is against it, you should maybe look at it twice. Just give us our setbacks, like two miles from a feed lot or a house or 1,000 feet from a property line,” said Beaman.

The Oahe Solar project is expected to start connecting to the power grid by 2024 and be completed by the fall of 2025.

Doral, LLC, Web Water and Walworth County Commission Chair James Houck were all reached out to for a comment, but none have responded at this time.

Copyright 2023 KSFY. All rights reserved.

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