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July 17, 2019

7/5/2019 1:16:00 PM
No progress at Chisago City solar energy workshop, mayor walks-out

The Chisago City Council pulled double duty last week, having agreed that its regular June 25 meeting would be followed by a workshop session to discuss the proposed solar energy ordinance and to view maps and locations of properties being considered for solar installations.  As a result, developers and affected landowners came to the June 25 meeting with maps and documents in hand, ready to go over them with the council.

But, as the June 25 workshop session opened, Mayor Bob Gustafson strongly objected to allowing solar energy developers and property owners to participate in the meeting.

He said,  “They can leave their materials here, and we can look at them. I don’t want to enter discussion with anybody that’s in litigation with us.”

Hearing this, a representative of US Solar, stated that there is no litigation. He said their attorney had sent a letter to the city making some inquiries, which City Administrator John Pechman confirmed. “There is no lawsuit filed. We have had correspondence from the legal representative of U.S. Solar inquiring about some documents,” Pechman said

Councilmember Marie Rivers then told the mayor, “I’d like to know what they (the developers and property owners) have to say.”
Rivers had said at a hearing on the solar ordinance June 18 that she wanted to see maps of the proposed solar  array development area.

The solar developers said they brought maps and other documents and hoped to have a conversation with the council.

Councilmember Jeremy Dresel said, “I can accept the documents and then have a discussion.”  

With the city council at an apparent impasse, Administrator Pechman suggested that they could set a procedural time limit on the portion of the workshop devoted to talking with the landowners and developers, but no such motion came forward.

Mayor Gustafson then went on to review and comment on several details of conditions, rules and restrictions  for the much-debated solar energy ordinance. When the developers and landowners were allowed to bring their maps and documents forward, the mayor got up and walked out.

During discussion of the ordinance provisions, the mayor had said he’d visited Peterson Company’s property to look firsthand at their earthen berm used for screening. The mayor described the Peterson Company’s berm as 15 feet tall.

He continued, “You put trees on top of that, and that will have it screened,” said Gustafson, who has been an advocate of screening solar array installations from view.

He also opposes allowing a gate or access to the solar gardens from Highway 8. He recommended 1,200 feet for setback of the panels from Highway 8, 750 feet from major county roads and 500 feet from local streets.

Councilmember Rivers took exception to height of berms, saying, “A 15-foot berm and then four-foot trees that are going to grow taller is too high,” said Rivers pointing out that the solar panels are only 10 or 12 feet high. “I’d rather have a lower berm and plant some trees that make it (the property) look nicer.”

After the mayor left, the developers told the council that they prefer to put their projects on sites where the equipment is hard to see. One commented, “If we have to do these huge berms, the projects won’t get built.”

The developers displayed maps that showed where solar arrays can be built within the city in close proximity to Xcel three-phase power lines. They can’t be built on properties that are not within a cost-effective distance to interface with power lines.

“If a one megawatt project were built on the Loren Peterson parcel (off County Road 22 on the west side of Chisago City) nobody is going to complain about it, because they can’t see it,” said the developers. “Yet, under this ordinance, we’d have to screen the whole thing.”  The developers suggested that berms for screening purposes should be on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve never built a berm around our solar arrays except in one case where the property owner had some dirt on his land he wanted to use,” they said.

“We have to write an ordinance that covers everything,” responded Councilmember Dresel.

Solar developers had previously suggested that Chisago City contact the City of Wyoming, which has identified all the places where solar energy arrays would work in their city.

Administrator Pechman told the council that he has contacted Wyoming and obtained a copy of their solar overlay maps and ordinance for further review.

As the workshop session drew to a close, the solar developers also suggested that the city contact Resources Great Plains Institute and Clean Energy Resources for help in creating their solar energy ordinance and agreements.

In other business conducted during the regular June 25 meeting, the council:

- Unanimously approved a conditional use permit (CUP) requested by Apollo Asset Group for construction of a  mini storage facility at 10595 Liberty Lane. The mini storage will consist of five buildings totaling 35,460 square feet. The city planning commission had recommended approval of the CUP with a number of conditions.

Concerns expressed at a June 6 planning commission public hearing included the need for screening, hours of operations, whether the automated gate would have to have a noisy beeper, and how many units of storage in the industrial park is appropriate. It was agreed the facility could be open 24 hours, and that the gate would not need to have a loud beeper. Brad Schmidt, speaking for the mini storage owners, said their research had showed that the Chisago Lakes Area could support another storage facility of this size.

Councilmember Marie Rivers said her only concern was that the units be high enough to allow someone to drive in a camper for storage. Schmidt told her large unit sizes would be 15’ x 30’ with a high door.

- Voted to authorize the mayor and city administrator to enter into an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for a reimbursement grant of $77,342. The grant is intended to reimburse the Chisago City Deputy Registrar’s office for inconveniences created by deployment of the now defunct Minnesota License and Registration System (MNLARS). In accepting the grant, the city registrar’s office agrees to hold the state harmless for any liability or claim resulting from deployment of the faulty MNLARS system, which has now been scrapped.

- Approved an employees’ request to close the department of motor vehicles office and public works department on Friday, July 5, as well as on the July 4 holiday. Employees have agreed to use their vacation time for the additional day.

- Accepted the lone quote received from Dresel Contracting Inc. for repair of the Park Place Storm Sewer for a base bid of $45,446. Councilmember Jeremy Dresel abstained from the vote. Chisago County will share in 50 percent of the cost.

- Agreed to let a firefighter rent a cabin at Ojiketa Regional Park. Volunteer firefighter Justin Verhey can move in effective July 1.
Administrator Pechman said that the city has found it useful to have someone on the park property, and it also reduces insurance premiums. The length of the rental agreement will be at least 18 months. The city is also considering employing a seasonal camp host.

- Voted to accept a donation of $1,000 from Kwik Trip for the fire department equipment fund. Fire Chief Zach Reed had applied for the funds through the Kwik Trip Community Foundation.

- Announced that the June 25 meeting had been preceded by a closed session to discuss the potential sale of tax delinquent property acquired by the city and that an additional closed session would be required.

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