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Wyoming Supreme Court ruling paves the way for the Rail Tie Wind Project

Two wind turbines are set in shadow as a sun sets in the background.

In a lawsuit seeking to stop the construction of a wind farm in Albany County, the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the wind farm.

The company, ConnectGen, plans to construct more than 100 turbines on a 26,000-acre patch of private and state lands in southern Albany County. That plan is dubbed the Rail Tie Wind Project — and it's been a source of local controversy for years.

The court's decision paves the way for ConnectGen to move forward with its plans, and a company representative said construction could start as early as 2024.

The wind farm is a welcome addition to the county for young people seeking action on climate change and for others enamored by the hefty sum of tax dollars the project could generate.

But some local landowners — several of whom live within sight of the proposed project area — are less pleased. These landowners have fought the wind farm every step of the way — organizing protests, filling government meetings, paying for billboards and mailers. Tony Kirchhoefer, one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, even ran for a county commissioner seat in 2022 with a campaign that stressed his opposition to the Rail Tie Wind Project. He lost the Republican primary.

The anti-Rail Tie landowners and their allies fought the wind farm's approval at every level of government permitting, but especially on the county level. In this lawsuit, they argued that the Albany County Commission's approval of the project was "arbitrary and capricious" and that it failed to follow its own rules and regulations during the approval process.

Albany County District Court rejected the landowner's interpretation. So the landowners appealed to the state Supreme Court. The Wyoming Supreme Court, however, agreed with the lower court. The courts affirmed that ConnectGen and the county commission had done their due diligence in approving the farm.

" … a difference in opinion is not sufficient to show the (Commission's) decision was arbitrary or capricious," the court writes. "The (Commission's) approval of the (Wind Energy Conversion System) special use permit application was not arbitrary and capricious and was not a taking of private property."

The Rail Tie Wind Project has now won the necessary approvals at all levels of government, from local to federal.

"There are some processes that need to be completed and some conditions of permits that need to be fulfilled, but all of the major permits have been finalized with this decision," said Britney Schopf, ConnectGen's project manager. "Our hope is to begin construction as early as next year, for completion in 2025."

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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