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Citizens want input on zoning for power plant near Laurel, rally in Billings

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Posted at 11:43 PM, Aug 16, 2023

LAUREL - Those opposed to the new natural gas generating plant near Laurel, rallied in Billings on Wednesday.

The Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) held a demonstration on the courthouse lawn after a zoning hearing in Yellowstone County District Court.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to determine if Yellowstone County or the city of Laurel has jurisdiction over the zoning of the land where Northwestern is constructing a power plant.

Those at the rally say that it all gets down to the public's right to participate.

"We need power sources that do not deplete the land," said Priscilla Bell, a member of the NPRC.

"There are 35 homes that are within three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies from this power plant," said Greg Childs, who is part of the Thiel Road Coalition.

Neither Yellowstone County nor the city of Laurel have taken authority over the zoning.

"It's agricultural land and if it's going to be rezoned to industrial, there needs to be a public process with public comment," said Mary Fitzpatrick, NPRC member.

A Northwestern spokesperson said in an email response: "The Yellowstone County Generating Station has been built on land in an industrial use area."

But the plaintiffs disagree.

"Here we are with the plant partially constructed and Northwestern Energy is just moving ahead with kind of that philosophy of asking for forgiveness rather than permission," said Cari Kimball, Montana Environmental Information Center executive director.

Northwestern says it went through the proper processes and its attorney questioned if the plaintiffs have standing, if there's an effective relief, and if this may become moot if the county and city deal with zoning issues.

The plaintiffs say it's all about the right to know and the right to participate.

"Is it city of Laurel?" Kimball asked. "Is it Yellowstone County? It just creates a lot of confusion for community members who want to find those opportunities to speak up when there are public comment periods."

Northwestern's attorney said the public did have a chance to comment on the generating plant.

But the citizens say they did not get the chance to address the zoning.

"We have a constitutional right to participate in big decisions like this," Fitzgerald said.

Judge Jessica Fehr set Sept. 6 as the next date when more briefs are due.