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Commissioners approve windmill lighting system variance

By Staff | Sep 18, 2021

A variance for a new aircraft detection lighting system for a northern Pierce County wind farm received a nod from Pierce County commissioners at their regular meeting held Sept. 7 at the Pierce County Courthouse.

Commissioners listened to representatives for SWCA Environmental Consultants, who spoke on behalf of Rugby Wind, LLC to explain the need for the lighting system tower. The aircraft detection lighting system, known as ADLS, would be constructed on land owned by Linda Ripplinger, who attended the meeting along with resident Doug Mundahl. Mundahl expressed concern about safety for aircraft flying from the Rugby Airport.

According to meeting minutes, SWCA representative Sarah Emery, who attended the meeting by phone, told the group the North Dakota Public Service Commission now requests that wind farms install the new technology, which prevents lights atop the windmills from blinking all night, instead activating them only when aircraft are detected in the area.

Emery told the group the new technology detects aircraft flying 1,500 feet from the ground at a radius of three to six miles. She added the FAA is reviewing the Public Service Commission’s request and should make a decision by November.

The commission voted to approve the request for the lighting system.

Commissioners also heard information presented by Mike Graner, administrator at Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center. Graner reported the average inmate population at the facility for August sat at 75, with a high of 90 inmates during the month. Sixty-seven inmates were housed at the facility as of Sept. 1. Twenty-nine inmates were booked in August, while 63 were released. The facility housed 10 inmates from Pierce County in August.

Graner added the facility posted a $1,342.81 deficit in July and had 20 of 24 officer positions filled. Graner also reported an officer who had resigned had “rescinded the resignation.” Additionally, Graner had received one new application for an officer position. Graner said two officers on medical leave have returned to their posts, and he expected another to return in October. He also asked the board to “consider adjusting holiday pay for employees to time and a half rather than giving them another eight to 12 hours of annual leave,” according to meeting minutes.

The facility had also completed an audit for compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which found it in full compliance.

Graner also reported issues with a new server recently purchased for the jail, which caused unexpected expenses. He told commissioners he had solicited quotes for a new jail fire control panel replacement. Additionally, Graner requested that the commissioners approve two Lenova laptop computers for telehealth use; two Cellsense Ultra contraband cell phone detectors with Xact ID technology and one vehicle to replace a van totaled in a crash in August. Commissioners approved Graner’s requests.

In other law enforcement-related business, commissioners met with Pierce County State’s Attorney Galen Mack to discuss the county’s community service program, which has been affected by recent trends in criminal sentencing. An applicant who had previously expressed interest in becoming a community service officer for the county had declined an offer for the position, according to information shared with the group.

“Misdemeanor charges, which were typically given community service hours, are now reduced to infractions and less community service cases (are) available,” according to meeting information. The commission will schedule a full community service advisory meeting to examine the issue further before advertising for a community service officer position.

Mack also presented information from State Court Administrator Sally Holewa about implementing a recruitment program to bring attorneys to rural communities such as Rugby or Pierce County. The program stems from legislation enacted in the last biennium in the North Dakota House and Senate. Counties or cities must sign an agreement to pay a portion of the financial incentives to bring the attorneys to their communities. Information supplied by Mack put the cost to participants at approximately $3,150 for five years. The commission approved Mack’s request for Pierce County to participate in the program.

Commissioners also listened to information presented by NDSU Pierce County Extension Agent Brenden Klebe and Sandra Scherr, the extension’s administrative assistant who heads the county’s 4-H program. Scherr said a date for 4-H Achievement Awards would soon be set and requested a county commissioner to attend the ceremony. Scherr also asked commissioners to promote the 4-H program and raise public awareness.

Klebe told the commissioners he planned to set a date for an ag safety day in September. He added hay and soil probing services by the extension office would begin soon.

Jesse Brandvold and Jessica Tagestad, both of Wold Engineering, also met with the board to give updates on a reshaping and graveling project on a section of three miles east of Selz to the Benson County line. Commissioners will meet with the North Dakota Department of Transportation at the Bismarck Civic Center Oct. 4 to discuss federal aid for county roads for 2022.

Board members also heard an update on a snow removal blade recently purchased by the county. Brian Kraft of supplier RDO told the board the blade would likely arrive in early October. Board members agreed to have personnel trained to use the new blade.

In other business, the board approved requests to sign county deeds on four properties. The board approved tax abatement requests on two properties.

The board also approved bills and financials for August.

Commissioners will next meet Oct. 5 at 8 a.m. in the Pierce County Courthouse.

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