Concerned about scenic wetlands used by migratory birds in central Kansas, the state’s secretary of Wildlife and Parks is urging Barton County officials to delay a decision on zoning for non-commercial wind turbines.
Secretary Mike Hayden said Friday he notified county officials that he’d like to address them before they vote on a zoning commission recommendation to create a “no-build” buffer zone around Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.
The wetlands is considered one of the state’s ecological treasures, with its wide variety of bird species that stop off in the area on migratory treks.
But commissioners are split over how to zone the area, which they are slated to consider on Monday. Hayden said he will be busy dealing with legislative issues and can’t attend the meeting.
“We’re certainly supportive of renewable energy, but we’ve got grave concerns with what this might do to Cheyenne Bottoms where we’ve invested millions and have migratory birds in spectacular numbers,” Hayden said. “I’ve asked them to delay such a decision to at least let us present our side.”
The issue came up last year when Scott Brantley, a local chiropractor who is launching a business to sell small-scale wind turbines, sought county permission to set up a demonstration turbine.
The county had to amend its zoning code before deciding the issue and the county’s nine-member Planning and Zoning Commission researched for several months before recommending a mile-wide no-build zone around the wetlands.
Outside of that zone would be a 2- to 3-mile conditional use zone, which would require a landowner to get county approval before erecting a turbine.
Brantley said he’d prefer to see a conditional permit zone for the entire area rather than a no-build zone.
“I’d just hate to see property rights removed,” Brantley said.
He noted that the recommendation only applies to residential-scale turbines, about 100 to 110 feet tall, and not the 400-foot utility-scale towers of large wind farms.
“I personally don’t want to see a large wind farm within 5 to 10 miles of Cheyenne Bottoms,” Brantley said.
Opinions on a no-build zone vary among the five-member county commission.
“My constituents in that area are not supportive of that,” said commissioner Kenneth Schremmer of Hoisington, who represents rural areas north of the wetlands. “I’ve asked the (zoning commission) to consider just a conditional permit zone instead. But I still probably could swing either way.”
Hayden said that wildlife officials are concerned about two things – birds being struck by turbines and the “view shed” or natural scenery disrupted by turbines.
“People come to Cheyenne Bottoms to see nature, to see these migratory birds,” he said of the area, which is promoted for nature tourism and hunting.
Turbine placement too close to the area could be a “disaster waiting to happen,” he said.
“We’ve invested over $15 million there since 1990,” Hayden said. “We’re getting ready to build a $3 million visitors center.”
The bottoms and the nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are also considered part of a National Scenic Byway, a designation given to stretches of highway with unique landscapes.
“The bottoms is in very good shape ecologically; hunter numbers are up this fall and migratory numbers were spectacular,” the secretary said.
But Brantley said he didn’t expect sales of more than 10 windmills on land directly surrounding the wetlands.
“I doubt that many people would be interested.”
County Commissioner Betty Chlumsky, however, said that while she has no problem with wind-generated energy, the wetlands is a unique natural asset that also is a source of economic benefit.
“There’s just nothing else like it. My concern is that Wildlife and Parks have invested a tremendous amount of money out there,” said Chlumsky of Great Bend. “This new interpretive (visitors) center will bring innumerable people to our community.”
Two other commissioners, Joe Wilson of Great Bend and Rick Scheufler of Ellinwood, could not be reached Friday for comment.
Commissioner Jennifer Schartz of Great Bend also supports a no-build zone.
“I’d rather err on the side of caution than come down years later and think we really did the wrong thing.”
By Sarah Kessinger
Harris News Service
9 March 2007
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