NextEra official gets earful from S.D. regulators over road damage at Crowned Ridge wind site

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The supervisor for a company that owns a wind farm being constructed in northeastern South Dakota was on the receiving end of criticism Tuesday from all three members of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

The commissioners made clear they want NextEra Energy Resources to be prompter in having local roads repaired at the Crowned Ridge project in Codington and Grant counties. Their comments were polite but blunt to Sean Harrington. He oversees project construction for the Florida-based company.

Commission chairman Gary Hanson quoted an undated but recent letter to the commission’s executive director from the project’s public liaison, Brian Riniker of Sioux Falls.

The letter included this statement: “At this juncture, it is well known to the general public, Codington County commissioners, Codington County highway superintendent, and Crowned Ridge that there has been substantial damage as a result of Crowned Ridge’s use of these roads for their project.” Riniker went on to say in the letter he didn’t think the matter needed the commission’s attention yet.

Chairman Hanson asked NextEra’s Harrington about the phrase “substantial damage.” Harrington replied that damage was “typical” for a wind project site. “Would I say that is more than normal? I would not,” Harrington said.

Hanson, who said he had looked at the roads, said it seemed to him the damage wasn’t repaired until complaints were received. “It seems like almost an afterthought,” Hanson told Harrington.

Harrington said Blattner Energy is used for long projects such as Crowned Ridge and it was to the company’s benefit for the roads to be kept passable so that large equipment could move on them. “We’re trying to get the roads so they’re usable,” Harrington said.

Hanson said the roadways appeared to have suffered “substantial damage” and said the company needs to do a better job, with winter freeze coming soon. “You guys really got to get on this and make sure people aren’t injured,” Hanson said. “You really need to get on this.” 

Also on the call was Rick Hartley, Codington County highway superintendent. Hartley said repairs had been made to all the torn-up spots shown in photos that Amber Christenson of rural Strandburg sent to the commission September 30. Christenson sent a follow-up October 9

“When construction is going on, there’s going to be damage,” Hartley said. He acknowledged “a little better job” could have been done and then agreed with commissioner Chris Nelson there were times when road conditions weren’t safe. Hartley said the damage was done by the trucks on the wind farm project and two years of wet conditions.

But Hartley also said damage to the asphalt went beyond patching. He said about 15 miles of roads inside the project needed more extensive work to be restored to their pre-project condition.

Commissioner Kristie Fiegen asked all sides to work together. “If I’m not hearing a no, I’m hearing an automatic yes to that,” Fiegen said.

Commissioner Nelson told NextEra’s Harrington that if the company has any reason to want the long-term goodwill of folks in the area, the roads needed to be put in “perfect condition.” Nelson said he knows from experience that people talk afterward about how a project was done.

“Not only do I think the permit requires you to do that, I would encourage that,” Nelson said.

Said Fiegen, “We want to make sure our citizens are treated properly.”

The commission approved the project’s permit in July 2019. The full Crowned Ridge docket is available here.

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