JEFFERSON — It’s not a “done deal” yet, but it’s getting there.
A We Energies liquid natural gas storage tank proposed for Ixonia on Thursday survived a conditional use permit appeals process conducted by the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Adjustment.
According to Jefferson County Corporation Counsel Blair Ward and county Administrator Ben Wehmeier, the conditional use permit for the controversial facility that We Energies is hoping to install in Ixonia could face another citizens group appeal at the Jefferson County Circuit Court level and the structure also must pass muster with the state’s Public Service Commission.
Dating to April, the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Adjustment has struggled with 1,104 pages of written record from a Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee decision to permit We Energies a conditional use to build a proposed liquified natural gas processing and storage facility in Ixonia.
Zoning board of adjustment members Dale Weis, Aari Roberts and Janet Sayre-Hoeft, with guidance from attorneys for the board of adjustment, waded through the massive document in the past few months in their attempts to understand and evaluate the thought processes used by planning and zoning committee members when they determined the LNG facility legally could be built at the proposed rural Ixonia location.
The appeal was filed with the county’s zoning board of adjustment in late 2020. It alleged that members of the planning and zoning committee made a number of errors Nov. 11, 2020 when they granted We Energies the conditional use permit.
Among those errors, according to the appeal, was a misinterpretation of the definition of a “utility” in the county zoning ordinance, which allowed the proposed facility to qualify as a conditional use in an agricultural preservation zone; failure to consider more appropriately zoned areas, such as industrial districts, as a site for the plant; and incorrectly concluding that all criteria in state statutes required to allow a “utility” use in a farmland preservation district had been satisfied.
The appeal also claimed the committee’s decision to permit the facility was inconsistent with Jefferson County’s Agricultural Preservation and Land Use Plan.
On Thursday, the board of adjustment spent approximately seven hours deliberating before returning its decision that the conditional use permit appeal should be denied. The vote was 2-1, with Weiss and Sayre-Hoeft voting to allow the permit. Roberts cast the dissenting vote.
The proposed We Energies facility would include a 15-story, 150-foot-diameter tank to store 12 million gallons of liquified natural gas. The plant also would have equipment to process vaporized natural gas into a liquid and back again, a section of pipeline connecting to a main natural gas pipeline plus an electric substation.
The purpose of the proposed facility would be to store natural gas until it is needed, at which time it would be put back into the pipeline. It would be built on a 24-acre site, now farmland, near the intersection of North and Triangle roads.
The Ixonia residents who filed the appeal alleged, among other impacts, that the proposed large industrial-type facility would reduce their property values, as well as the use and enjoyment of their properties; change the rural character of the area and cause noise, odors, light pollution and increased truck traffic.
They also claimed the facility would endanger their safety, due to the possibility of a leak, fire, explosion or other event at the plant.
The residents who filed the appeal, through their lawyer, were Jessica and Bill Rupnow and Sandra Schaeffer, who own homes overlooking the proposed We Energies site, and Tiffany Carey, who owns a home and farm immediately north of the land We Energies would buy for the project.
Mary Rupnow said Friday that her citizens group is disappointed that the CUP for the facility in Ixonia was not overturned. She did not say if an appeal is being planned at the circuit court level.
“During the course of three intensive hearings, the board of adjustment exhibited that they were going to do their due diligence,” Rupnow said. “It is evident that politics were in play and that counsel was not going to let all the board members vote their conscience. Watching the appointed attorney and opposing attorneys manipulate the decision process was shocking.
“Unfortunately, after seven hours, they eventually wore down one of the board members, and they voted 2-1 not to overturn the CUP,” she added. “We are extremely thankful to Aari Roberts for having the courage to stand up to the oil and gas industry, and not be threatened by additional legal action by We Energies.”
Brendan Conway, of We Energies media relations department, said his firm is pleased with the board’s decision.
“We appreciate all the time and effort the board of adjustment members and county staff spent on this important issue,” Conway said. “Their decision confirms the county’s previous approval that our proposed LNG facility is appropriate and allowed, and that it is consistent with Jefferson County’s farming traditions. This facility will allow us to keep customers warm on the coldest days of the year by providing safe, reliable and affordable energy.”
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission still must grant We Energies’ application to construct the Ixonia facility before it can be built.
A decision on that application is expected in a few weeks.