State Sen. Tom Brewer

State Sen. Tom Brewer represents the 43rd Legislative District.

Last week I attended a hearing in the District Court in O’Neill concerning the Cherry County commissioners. They are being sued by Preserve the Sandhills, a group of citizens who oppose wind energy development in the Sandhills.

I’m pleased to report the judge ruled in Preserve the Sandhills’ favor.

Judge Mark Kozisek’s order temporarily stops board members Tanya Storer and Martin DeNaeyer from “hearing, discussing, considering, influencing or voting” on a conditional use permit for a planned wind energy facility near Kilgore. The arguments I listened to in court alleged these board members have a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to vote on this matter. Evidence to support this argument was presented and now it’s up to the judge to decide.

There are laws in Nebraska that deal with elected officials who have conflicts of interest. This sort of thing is handled by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Elected officials who “think” they may have a conflict of interest have a duty under the law to report that to the NADC. The NADC issues rulings indicating whether or not they believe the elected official has a conflict of interest. If they do, NADC will direct actions they need to take, such as abstaining from a vote on an issue where there is a conflict.

It’s important to remember that the NADC cannot technically stop a politician from doing their job, but they can levy fines for failing to follow NADC directives. Last session we passed LB 411, which substantially increased these fines.

LB 373 is a bill I introduced that would go a long way in resolving the ongoing conflict about wind energy in Cherry County and elsewhere. The bill requires counties that wish to host wind energy facilities to pass zoning regulations that address wind energy. Right now, the choice to have these regulations is left up to the county. I don’t think this should be optional. Cherry County provides an excellent example of why I feel this way.

The county’s repeated failure to adopt zoning regulations for wind energy causes concerned citizens to feel like they don’t have a voice. Ignored people quickly become angry people. They are forced to file lawsuits so they can finally be heard. LB 373 makes wind energy zoning mandatory. Creating new county zoning regulations is a very public process. It provides numerous opportunities for everyone to participate regardless of their position on the subject. No one can say their voice wasn’t heard.

I hope this lawsuit provides the incentive the county commissioners need to finally address this issue and start healing the terrible rift wind energy is causing all over rural Nebraska.

Contact Sen. Tom Brewer: tbrewer@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2628.

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