County planning board meeting on zone changes related to Rainbow Dam postponed; decision on April 8 commission hearing on zoning regulation changes not yet released
The Cascade County Planning Board meeting regarding zoning changes for parcels owned by NorthWestern Energy have been postponed due to COVID-19.
The board was scheduled to meet 9 a.m. March 26 to consider a zoning map amendment for 14 parcels and adding ‘data center’ to the zoning regulations.
Earlier this month, the County Commission voted unanimously to ask the county planning board to review the changes and make a recommendation.
The 14 properties are along the northern side of the Missouri River and include those containing the active hydroelectric Black Eagle and Rainbow powerhouse sites. The parcels are currently zoning ‘open space,’ a designation that is contrary to the dominant used of the land as power generating facilities regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The proposal is to change those 14 parcels from open space to agricultural zoning, which would allow the existing electricity generation uses.
Since the commission voted to ask the planning board to consider the zoning changes and the definition addition, the planning board will review the items at a regular meeting and then go through the regular process to make zone changes if they choose to do so. That process includes public notices and public hearings. The planning board would consider the changes that would then go before the commission for final approval with more public notices and public hearings.
This particular zoning issue came up as NorthWestern Energy and Susteen Inc. have been discussing a lease agreement for the historic Rainbow Powerhouse for the development of a blockchain data center. FERC has approved the use, but now NorthWestern and Susteen are working out the details.
The Cascade County Commission is currently scheduled to hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. April 8 at the Family Living Center at Montana Expo Park to consider staff-initiated changes to the county’s zoning regulations and subsequent Planning Board recommendations.
The changes would affect all of Cascade County, except the incorporated areas of Great Falls, Belt, Cascade and Neihart.
That meeting has not yet been postponed, but on March 24, commissioners are considering postponing all activities at Expo Park through April 30.
Here’s some background on the proposing zoning regulation changes: