Union County voters will decide zoning for Hyperion

Union County voters will decide zoning for Hyperion
Union County voters will have their say over the planned Hyperion Energy Center on June 3.

The Union County Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday to hold a referendum on the controversial oil refinery in conjunction with the South Dakota primary election already scheduled on that date.

A pro-refinery group last week turned in petitions calling for a referendum on a proposed zoning change that would allow Hyperion to build the $10 billion project just northeast of Elk Point. Under state law, the commission had the option of attaching the question to the primary ballot or holding a special election in mid-April.

By piggybacking the referendum on the primary, supporters said the county saves the estimated $7,000 to $8,000 it would have cost to have a special vote.

According to news reports, Commissioner Milton Ustad of Beresford cast the dissenting vote, saying that many of his constituents wanted a separate vote for such an important issue.

"The people that talked to me agreed that it would cost a little more, but a lot of them expressed the opinion it would be money well spent," Ustad said.

Ed Cable, a spokesman for Save Union County, a citizens group opposing the refinery, questioned whether the vote should proceed at all while a lawsuit it filed against the county is pending. Cable said the group plans to ask a judge to rule on the issue.

"It would seem to us to be more appropriate not to have a (referendum) on a vote that was not legally done," he said.

The suit, filed last week, alleges that the commission violated the law and the county's comprehensive plan when it changed the zoning on the refinery site from ag land to a new class, Energy Center Planned Development District.

By a 5-0 vote the commission voted March 11 to grant Hyperion's application to rezone 3,292 acres of farmland to allow construction of the 400,000-barrel-per-day

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refinery. Shortly afterwards, Citizens for Hyperion began gathering petitions to force the referendum, which the company encouraged.

Citizens for Hyperion president J.B. Mercer said his group collected more than 1,000 signatures. Mercer noted that Save Union County also was circulating petitions, but never delivered any signatures to election officials.

"The opponents say they want a democratic decision, and here was their chance," Mercer said in a statement. "Instead of helping to send this issue to the people of Union County, they've done everything in their power to keep it off the primary ballot."

Cable said Save Union County volunteers collected more than enough signatures to trigger a referendum, though he did not specify an exact number. Under state law, 476 were required to force a vote.

Jerry Miller, state's attorney for the county, will draft the language for the question for the June 3 ballot. The deadline for registering for the primary is May 19. The Hyperion question will appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots in Union County.

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