Manhattan and Riley County certainly have legitimate governmental interests in the development of the corridor, the promotion of tourism and protection of the tallgrass prairie.
The Riley County Planning Board is considering how to regulate industrial-scale wind turbines. The company wanting to build them on a portion of the Flint Hills in southeast Riley County has proposed a height limit of 415 feet. This would be 41 stories high, or 65 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. The company would like to build a large number of these towers.
At the same time, the Manhattan City Commission and others are seriously investigating “STAR” bonds to finance the redevelopment of the Third- and Fourth-Street corridor. In order to qualify for such bonds, a project must incorporate a tourist attraction; the current proposal calls for a tallgrass prairie educational center at the south end of the corridor. But it makes little sense to plan a tourist attraction based on the beauty of the Flint Hills and tallgrass prairie, and then build multiple 40-story towers on that same prairie, near the entrance to Manhattan.
I believe the Planning Board and Riley County Commission should work with the city fathers to resolve this conflict. In Michigan, a township in Charlevoix County solved a similar problem by giving primary importance to preserving and protecting its scenic resources along the shore of Lake Michigan. The township limited wind turbines to the height required for single residential use. When two landowners challenged the legality of this restriction, the federal court in Michigan, on Sept. 26, 2003, upheld the limit. Such a limit would likely be in the range of 50 to 85 feet, not 415 feet.
The Michigan court recognized a legitimate interest of the township in preserving its scenic resources. Manhattan and Riley County certainly have legitimate governmental interests in the development of the corridor, the promotion of tourism and protection of the tallgrass prairie. Even more so than in Michigan, these interests support a ban on large-scale turbines.
Such a ban makes good economic sense for our area. The extensive and intact landscape of the Flint Hills is clearly becoming more and more attractive to tourists, outdoor enthusiasts and retirees. It is in our interest to protect it.
Dick Seaton, Manhatten (KS)
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