A decision by the Montana Department of Natural Resource and Conservation (DNRC) to issue a lease to a wind power company, Coyote Wind, has been set aside by the 6th Judicial District Court in Sweet Grass County.
In a Oct. 6 decision, Judge John C. McKeon directed DNRC to conduct more investigation as to the impact of the 79 megawatt energy project and provide a more complete Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
In 2009, Coyote Wind was the successful bidder on a request for proposal from DNRC to develop wind power on the 640 acres of state-owned trust land in Sweet Grass County. The company proposed placing six to ten wind turbines on the site located three miles northeast of Springdale, which would augment the company's wind development project on an adjacent 2400 acres of private land.
Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch, Rock Creek Ranch, Engwis Investment Company and R. F. Building Company filed suit in March 2010 against DNRC claiming that the state agency failed to issue an FEIS that complies with the Montana Environmental Policy Act. The agency, they further charged, failed to meet other MEPA requirements including the consideration of other alternatives, failing to give consideration to certain environmental impacts, failing to consider cumulative impacts, and to consider "significant new information."
Pending before the court were cross motions for summary judgment.
The court rejected DNRC's request to dismiss the case, and upheld that of the plaintiffs. The court remanded the matter back to DNRC for additional investigation and to report under the Montana Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA).
DNRC argued that they did not have to comply with the MEPA requirements due to exemptions in the law, and also because some of the plaintiffs had exceeded the statute of limitations. As to other claims the agency said it had "adequately complied with the procedural requirements of MEPA."
The court declared that DNRC's decision was "arbitrary and capricious and not in compliance with law."
The District Court said that a thorough analysis of the cumulative impacts was lacking, and should include the cumulative impacts that might occur because of potential activity related to an oil and gas lease of the property.