Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Judge reinstates order to tear down plant

October 25, 2006

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— A Cass County judge Tuesday said state regulators overstepped their authority in May when they approved an Aquila Inc. power plant near Peculiar, so he reinstated his order to tear it down.

Circuit Judge Joseph P. Dandurand said the Missouri Public Service Commission was not able to green-light a plant that already had been built in violation of county law.

"However broad the powers of the commission, they are not unlimited, and certainly do not include the authority to ignore or overcome the law," he wrote.

Aquila officials said they would appeal Dandurand's ruling, putting any attempt to bulldoze the $140 million facility on hold.

The decision is the latest in the year-and-a-half roller-coaster ride for the South Harper plant, which opened in June 2005 as a way to provide supplemental power during hot summer months.

Despite objections from nearby residents and county officials, Kansas City-based Aquila built the plant without local zoning permits, contending it had a state-issued "certificate of need" for the plant and didn't require the county's approval.

The county sued, with Dandurand and an appeals court agreeing that the state-issued certificate didn't specifically cover the Peculiar plant.

The appeals court did say Aquila could attempt to get the permits after the fact from county officials - who said they would never approve the plant - or go back to the Public Service Commission.

The commission in May voted 3-2 to approve the plant, saying that while the company hadn't received zoning approval for the plant, it was in the public's interest and should be allowed.

In his ruling Tuesday, Dandurand criticized the commission, agreeing with the dissenting voters on the panel that the public hearings in the Harper issue had not treated opponents of the plant fairly.

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