As plans for an Ellis County wind farm continue to kick up dust, a heated debate has blown over the city of Hays, particularly the southwest part of town.
While 20 property owners in the Yocemento Road area have entered lease agreements with Competitive Power Ventures, a Maryland-based power industry development and asset-management company, other locals strongly oppose the idea of neighborhood turbines.
According to CPV project manager Krista Gordon, the project, if approved by the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission, would consist of 130 turbines in a 10,000-acre stretch of land. The development also would create about 15 long-term, good-paying jobs for skilled technicians, Gordon said.
“The project could be a huge source of economic development to Ellis County,” she said.
Hays was selected as the site for this project as the result of intense research in western Kansas, Gordon said. CPV was looking for a location with attractive features – most notably, a stiff breeze.
“The wind research here has proven to be excellent,” she said.
This project began about four years ago, and CPV has provided “extensive public outreach,” including a public forum at Fort Hays State University a couple of years ago, she said.
Gordon will deliver a presentation on behalf of CPV, which is applying for a conditional use zoning permit.
“I hope any remaining questions the public has can be answered at that time,” she said. “This project is extremely important to me personally and to the other people involved.”
“It’s been a long time in the making, and we really want to see it succeed,” Gordon said.zz
If approved, the issue will go to the Ellis County Commission for final approval.
Tim Davis found out about the wind farm project about two weeks ago. He purchased a home and several acres of land near 210th Avenue about a year ago and is afraid the development would diminish the value of his property.
“I paid more money than (the property) was worth because I wanted to live in the country,” Davis said. “If I’m going to be losing a lot of money and my neighbors beside me are making money, how is that equitable and how does that not warrant some kind of discussion?”
Davis has researched the topic and found several studies suggesting his concerns are well-grounded – the closer property is to such a development, the more values are affected, he said.
According to a recent map of the development, Davis, practicum coordinator/assistant professor of social work at FHSU, predicts that he will have at least two turbines within 1,500 feet of his home.
He had not received prior notice from the zoning commission or CVP, he said. He learned of the development from an e-mail sent by a friend.
Since then, he has received information from the commission and been contacted by Gordon, he said.
He’s also been communicating with other concerned neighbors, sharing research and concerns.
However, deflated property value isn’t even his primary “selfish” concern. His foremost fear is the health and well-being of his family.
He’s been swayed by studies he’s found that suggest nearby wind farms can trigger epilepsy, migraines and depression, he said.
On a larger scale, he’s also concerned about how this project could affect the entire community.
“My big concern on a community level is that this appears to have been poised to slide in, without any kind of study about how this is going to affect the Hays community at large,” he said. “What kind of economic impact are we going to see long-term, what kind of social impact, what kind of environmental impact? And we haven’t looked into those questions at all.”
Lyle Johnston, whose family has owned property located at 170th Avenue and Vineyard for generations, has concerns of his own.
His family runs a ranching and farming operation of about 150 cattle, and some of their pasture will be in close vicinity to at least two turbines, he said. His parents live on the family farm about a mile west of this location.
While Johnston currently resides in Ellis, he owns some of the property and will be the family farmer for the next generation.
He and his family decided to investigate the issue after receiving notice of the public hearing from the zoning commission, dated March 6, and were surprised at the size of the project, he said.
“That first part was what really kind of scared us, because this is really quite, for lack of a better term, a back-door situation here,” Johnston said. “It totally amazes us and the people we talk to how a project of this size has run under the radar this long.”
Among Johnston’s other concerns are property devaluation, potential noise issues, visual dominance and the risk of a 400-foot tall mechanical tower catching fire.
Environmental contamination is another concern. The turbines will be rooted deep underground, and there is fear of contaminating well-water supplies, he said.
County funding is another concern.
“If this company does not secure some sort of bond or something for these roads, the county’s going to get stuck with the bill,” Johnston said. “My final real concern is the taxes for Ellis County. What can the county tax on these? They can’t tax the power, they can only tax the money the landowners get as a lease, and how much of that will stay around here? It’s a whole bunch of questions.”
Both Davis and Johnston are planning to present their concerns at tonight’s meeting.
“I just hope that everyone can get out, or at least know what’s going on,” Johnston said. “Once that passes the commission, it’s almost a done deal.”
Harold Kraus has no objection to his potential new neighbor. He has entered a lease agreement with CPV, and about six turbines could be erected in his half-section of property, located at the project’s southeast corner.
“We’re not in for theatrics, we’re in for the business. But it’s all business as far as I’m concerned,” Kraus said. “It’s a good business plan and has the potential to be a very solid neighbor in our neighborhood.”
Kraus, a retired farmer, has owned this property for about 40 years. While he does not live in the project area, his son is renovating a home on the property.
Kraus shares none of his neighbors’ concerns.
“Technology has changed, and a lot of the things that they’re fearing about were with the early wind farms in California, and those were 20 years ago or more,” he said.
In fact, he’s so confident he and his son plan to request a variance, which would allow a tower to be built less than the recommended 1,000 feet away from the home.
Despite an intensive construction process that could take between eight and 10 months, Kraus foresees no glitches in the proposed project.
While environmental distress is high on people’s list of concerns, there is no need to worry about well-water pollution. The same cannot be said about the oil industry, he said.
Turbines will be cemented under ground, and there is no contaminating factor in concrete, he said.
Improved technology also has reduced the amount of noise generated by the towers, though they weren’t loud to begin with, he said.
Economically speaking, the wind farm will benefit Ellis County in several ways, Kraus said.
For one thing, CVP likely will compensate Ellis County for needed road repair, and the loads of equipment will be of legal weight limit, because they will be traveling on the highway, he said.
“I think people, before they make up their minds, need to realize that there will be a considerable sum of money given to the county to repair for the loads coming in,” Kraus said. “I haven’t read what’s going to be presented so I’m not going to speculate, but I know the county wanted compensation two years ago when this first came up and the company agreed to it.”
Even if the profits from this industry are shipped outside of Ellis County, it will benefit the local economy because it will bring new money into the area, he said.
“The idea that the money, the product will be shipped out – that’s good, because it will bring new money back to the area from a far-away place,” he said. “That’s what we’re short of in western Kansas. We’re short of new money.”
Taylor Bemis also has no objection to sharing his homeland with a number of wind towers. His mother, Dorothy Bemis, owns property in the project area, and Taylor has lived on his ranch near Old U.S. Highway 40 for about 50 years.
His ranch, which consists of about 200 head of cattle, will be at the north end of the wind farm. One tower likely will be closer than 1,000 feet to his home, provided a waiver is approved by the zoning commission.
While Bemis sympathized with fears of property devaluation, he does not believe those concerns are valid, other than the fact that the view of the horizon will be changed, he said.
“There have been studies done on property values around other wind projects, and those studies have found that property values do not decline and normal market conditions prevail between properties,” Bemis said.
Environmentally, wind farms are one of the cleanest ways to produce energy, and the decision would be economically sound as well, he said.
“I’m very in favor of answering any questions that anyone has about the project,” Bemis said. “Nobody’s trying to hide anything or distort the facts on what’s going to happen with this project.”
By Kaley Lyon
Hayes Daily News
27 March 2007
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