Industrial Siting: State entity explainedWritten by Jennifer Womack
According to Todd Parfitt, administrator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Division, the seven representatives who make up the ISC are appointed by the governor to serve six-year terms. “What the ISC does,” says Parfitt, “relates back to the Industrial Siting Act.” Parfitt says the ISC provides a forum and a mechanism by which state agencies, local governments and affected parties can offer input on how they might be impacted by a particular project.
Current chairman of the ISC is Shawn Warner of Powell. Also serving are Sandy Shuptrine of Jackson, Darrell Offe of Hartville, Peter Brandjord of Green River, Mike Daly of Wheatland, James Miller of Sundance and Greg Bierei of Gillette.
“We identify potential impacts and start a dialog on how projects might be mitigated,” says Parfitt. Sometimes, for example, a voluntary agreement regarding roads may be inked between the county and the developer to ensure proper maintenance and repairs. Another scenario is the allocation of impact assistance payments, an agreement that is reached with the guidance of the ISC but later divvied up by the Department of Revenue using General Fund dollars. Parfitt says the impact fees stem from the anticipation of higher tax revenues as a result of the project.
Many Wyoming landowners hadn’t heard of the ISC until discussions regarding wind energy development in the state gained steamed. “Projects that cost greater than $175 million are required to file an application with the Industrial Siting Division,” says Parfitt. “We process it and bring it before the ISC for approval or denial.”
“Each of the agencies identified in the Act provide comments and feedback to the ISC,” says Parfitt. “The agency heads can serve as advisors to the Council. One of the agencies is the Wyoming Game and Fish and certainly they’re going to bring up sage grouse core areas. Unless the impact can be mitigated, the ISC has the ability to deny a permit.”
Beyond sage grouse core areas, the ISC is also the juncture at which neighboring landowners can voice their concerns regarding a project. “The procedure is that a landowner would have to notify the ISD by the specified date in the public notice of their interest in becoming a party,” explains Parfitt. “They would need to attend and participate in the prehearing and would need to be present at and speak at the ISC hearing to maintain their party status.”
In counties that don’t have zoning, the ISC may be the only opportunity citizens in a given community have to become involved. Under existing law, it’s also the opportunity for counties to ensure their questions and concerns are addressed.
To date, Parfitt says the ISC has reviewed and approved seven wind energy projects. They’re aware of another 11 that could be filed in the near future. “Some are waiting to see the outcome of the Fish and Wildlife Service decision regarding sage grouse,” says Parfitt of the pending decision on whether or not the sage grouse will be designated as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“The ISC will go through the process with any permit application,” says Parfitt, “but I think the bar is pretty high in sage grouse core areas. Those are going to be really tough to get permitted and the Game and Fish is going to weigh in heavily on that decision.” When it comes to sage grouse core areas Parfitt says it isn’t just about wind development, but any project that may result in the bird being listed.
“Other projects that are not in the sage core areas will have a greater potential to move forward,” says Parfitt. Specifically he mentions Duke Energy’s Top of the World project slated for construction north of Glenrock in Converse County. That is the next project he expects to come before the ISC.
“These projects come with an application and they go through a review by the agency for completeness and then agencies and the public are given an opportunity to provide input,” says Parfitt. The Industrial Siting Act sees no boundaries in that it applies equally to federal, state and private land where projects will surpass the $175 million threshold.
Parfitt says those wishing to follow the ISC’s activities can do so via the Wyoming DEQ website. While wind has been the agency’s focus in recent months, Parfitt says they also deal with other projects meeting the monetary thresholds including power plants, gas processing facilities and more.
For the time being, given the rate at which the applications arrive, Parfitt says their staff of three has been able to meet demands in a timely fashion.