County commissioners reconsidered a decision to have talks with Enel Green Power North America in private Friday.
Cost overruns by engineering consultant Kirkham Michaels, hired in November 2017 to provide haul route evaluation for roads used by Diamond Vista wind farm construction, have county commissioners and Diamond Vista wind farm owners Enel Green Power North America at loggerheads.
Commissioners were mixed on whether to meet in secret. Randy Dallke, Kent Becker, and David Crofoot initially voted in favor of closing the meeting. Jonah Gehring, appearing via computer because he is in self-imposed quarantine after traveling to Vail, Colorado, where there is a COVID-19 outbreak, voted in favor of going into closed meeting. Commissioner Dianne Novak, citing that earlier discussions have been held in open meeting, voted against closing the meeting.
Soon after onlookers went to the hallway, Novak came outside the commission room to say the motion to go into executive session would be amended.
Novak said she didn’t believe the meeting should be closed to the public with several Enel representatives on the phone.
Soon after closing the meeting, commissioners learned how many Enel representatives were on the phone and rescinded their decision. Because a 30-minute executive session had been announced and several people logged in by computer disconnected, commissioners waited a half hour before resuming the meeting in open session.
Although a payment in lieu of taxes agreement signed by commissioners and Diamond Vista in July 2018 specifically states the wind farm can reduce payments in lieu of taxes to the county by any amount paid to Kirkham Michaels that exceeds $250,000, the bills from the engineering company total more than $770,000, and Enel has reimbursed $737,796.
Kirkham Michaels’ most recent report to commissioners on post-construction road conditions estimates the cost to repair damages at $473,020.
Officials with Enel, county commissioners, and county counsel Brad Jantz held a phone conference to discuss getting the final repairs made or payment from Enel so the county can see to the needed repairs.
Enel officials asked that the discussion be held in executive session on the basis of it being “contract negotiations.”
“As you know, there is a dispute, and if we’re unable to reach a resolution, that could end in litigation,” Jantz warned Enel officials early in the conversation.
Jeff Pimer, speaking on behalf of Enel, complained reminded commissioners that Diamond Vista had asked the commission in 2018 to be prudent about Kirkham Michael’s charges.
Novak pointed out that Enel representatives kept referring to the payment in lieu of taxes agreement and asked that they explain why.
“I told you commissioners to take a look at those (Kirkham Michael) invoices,” Enel representative Nick Coil said. “I will also tell you we are not obligated to make a payment (in lieu of taxes) for 10 years.”
Novak said she was exceedingly disappointed in Enel and refused to discuss any further although the other commissioners might.
“I will say I attend a lot of meetings, and I will make other counties aware of this,” Novak said.