A 3 to 2 vote on Tuesday by the Washoe Board of County Commissioners approved an appeal that now prevents Ormat Technologies from drilling test wells for a possible geothermal project near Gerlach.
The project was opposed by numerous residents who said it would disrupt the rural town’s remote, quiet lifestyle and have negative environmental impacts.
The project has already received approval by the Bureau of Land Management for exploration, but the county approves permits for the drilling, which is what was disputed at Tuesday’s meeting.
The drilling will determine if there is a geothermal resource, said Ormat’s Paul Thomsen. “We did this to slow the process down and to allow multiple bites of the apple for public comment.”
Burning Man and other parties are suing BLM to stop the project. They also appealed Ormat’s permits approved by the county’s board of adjustment.
Ormat’s attorney, Garrett Gordon, assailed Burning Man and said the nonprofit lacks standing in the case in part because they did not speak against the project, or appear at a board of adjustment public meeting in early January, when the drilling was approved.
“This noticing thing is a rabbit hole that there is no need to go down,” he said. “We complied with your current code. I’ve been through this process dozens of times.
“There was no opposition at the board of adjustment,” he added, “which I would submit to you means no one has standing to file an appeal today because no one showed up to a properly noticed board of adjustment hearing.”
Burning Man’s attorney Sev Carlson disputed that argument. The meeting notice was issued just before Christmas for the board of adjustment’s Jan. 5 meeting.
The test wells “are all adjacent to Burning Man’s properties or are within a half mile of Gerlach,” he said. “Even exploration can’t necessarily be done in a sustainable way.”
Carlson added that the holiday meeting notice meant people were unavailable to attend the meeting.
“Take a look at the time frame of when the notice was sent out – two days before Christmas,” he said. “People are on holiday. It’s that simple, and the contention that [state law] required Burning Man to show up… We didn’t have to show up.”
Gordon also accused Burning Man of wanting to develop their own geothermal resources on their property.
Carlson also disputed that.
“[It’s] solely recreational,” he said of naturally occurring hot springs in the area. “There’s no drilling.”
Commissioners Mike Clark, Jeanne Herman and Clara Andriola voted to approve the appeal of the board of adjustment’s approval of the permits.
“There’s two actions – approve or deny,” Andriola said.
Burning Man issued a statement after the decision.
“The County’s decision is final. Ormat may seek to appeal this decision in the courts or take some other legal action, but [the] decision delays the project for a substantial period of time and could result in it never moving forward,” Burning Man representatives said.
Ormat representatives did not respond to This Is Reno.