More than 20 years ago, in a national debate about creating a federally managed Tallgrass Prairie National Park, the ranchers of Wabaunsee County and the Flint Hills told the nation that they had the best interests of this unique region in mind. They said that they were the best qualified to be caretakers of the world’s last landscape-scale Tallgrass Prairie.
Where are their voices now? Why is there silence when the Flint Hills and Wabaunsee County are facing an assault by forces far more dangerous than the National Park Service?
Promoters of the wind energy craze, absentee landowners and a few locals hoping for a windfall are about to destroy the soul of the Flint Hills. Miles of large-scale industrial wind turbine complexes laid out on our ridge -lines are a possibility as corporations cash in on the booming subsidized and tax free wind turbine craze. This is a scheme dreamed up by the likes of Enron and WorldCom executives in cahoots with lobbied politicians. These entrepreneurs – at our expense – plan to make millions in tax benefits and income credits under the guise of “Green Energy.” They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Venture capitalists and foreign corporations are plotting to transform the Flint Hills into an industrial nightmare. I’m talking about so-called wind farms. I say so-called because this is a term dreamed up by image consultants. In reality, these are industrial complexes. Our state government is so eager to attract the wind-power industry that it has given it generous subsidies and tax-free status.
This may be all well and good for places like Montezuma in Gray County, where a model wind power complex is in operation on the High Plains.
But in its eagerness to attract the wind-power industry, our elected state leadership failed to establish protection for the special places in Kansas with world-class distinction: the Flint Hills, Cheyenne Bottoms, and Quivera National Wildlife Refuge. It has been left up to our local county government to defend our home.
The assault on Wabaunsee County has begun. A subsidiary of a German company has contacted several landowners about erecting wind turbines on their land. Three companies have approached our zoning administrator about building in the county. They want a legal precedent for setting up the industry here. They want a foot in the door.
The possibility of such large-scale industrial activity affecting hundreds of square miles by the erection of scores of structures taller than the State Capitol is not covered in our current zoning regulations. The Wabaunsee County Commission declared a moratorium on issuing permits to wind companies until regulations could be drawn up. They then hired a consultant to help them create the regulations. This is the document that is to be considered for adoption at the public hearing at 7:30 Thursday at the courthouse in Alma.
In my opinion, our county government has the cart before the horse. Why are we working out regulations when we should be deciding if we even want this industry in the county? It is up to our county commissioners to see that the interests of the majority of residents are protected.
Members of the planning commission are concerned about taking away the right of property owners to make a profit from their land. Don’t zoning regulations exist to protect the interests of the community over the self-interest of individuals?
What about the rights of a property owner whose neighbor erects a 50-story structure that emits a low frequency nuisance noise like Chinese water torture? A tower flashing with strobe lights day and night? Blades slinging ice at high speeds? A mesmerizing visual maze that has been known to trigger epileptic seizures? Machines that start prairie fires, cause ghosts on television reception, interfere with cell phone signals and have who knows what kind of effect on wildlife? Do our neighbors have the right to take away our property’s value and reduce our quality of life?
The Flint Hills landscape is basically the same as it was thousands of years ago. Few inhabited places can make that claim. Are we going to be the generation that destroyed this national treasure?
Wabaunsee County has a comprehensive plan that has been in a revision process since 1999. Comprehensive plans are an instrument for counties to define what they want to preserve and maintain about their community over time. These documents have been honored by the courts as the legitimate voice of the people in land-use issues.
The revised Comprehensive Plan was completed but never officially adopted because some statistical information needed to be updated after the 2000 Census. Here are key phrases from the Goals and Objectives of the revised plan formulated from the results of a public survey:
— Maintain the rural character of the county with respect to its landscape, open spaces, scenery, peace, tranquility and solitude.
— Develop realistic plans to protect natural resources such as the agricultural land, landscape, scenic views and Flint Hills through regulatory policies.
— Develop a tourism program involving historic properties, nature of rural character and scenic landscape.
Industrializing the Wabaunsee County landscape with the construction of large-scale wind turbine complexes is not compatible with the goals and objectives of our Comprehensive Plan. The people spoke; why aren’t our elected officials listening?
With many in the agricultural community hurting financially, this is a perfect opportunity for venture capitalists to make tempting offers. Will we sell out our heritage and our neighbors for short-term gain? And who will clean up the mess when this boom is over?
Don’t be silent. Now is the time to speak up. If our way of life and the integrity of the Flint Hills are to be preserved, you need to step forward and let your elected representatives know your concerns.
What can you do? Go to the protecttheflinthills.org Website and follow its links for more information. Or write the organization at Box 51, Towanda, KS 67144. Tell the Wabaunsee County commissioners your concerns.
Michael Stubbs is a resident of Wabaunsee County.