Wind moved Wednesday’s Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, but in an unexpected way.
The meeting adjourned shortly after 9:30 p.m. as a massive storm cell swept through western Kansas.
The public hearing will be rescheduled at a later date.
“I have an announcement,” said Barbara Anderson, who filled in as acting chair because chairman Lance Russell was out of town. “The reason (Commissioner) Dick Klaus left is we have a tornado on the ground 25 miles southwest of Hays.”
The room nearly had evacuated before the commission unanimously agreed to adjourn.
Overall, Wednesday’s public hearing was a chaotic one.
As planned, the meeting was called to order at 7 p.m. in the Ellis County Courtroom on the third floor of the courthouse.
This arrangement was less than desirable – about 250 were in attendance and the room was so crowded that people were standing and sitting on the floor. More than 50 individuals could not even enter the packed facility.
Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond offered to provide use of the Memorial Union Ballroom if the commission conceded to relocate.
The hearing reconvened at 8 p.m. on campus, and Competitive Power Ventures project manager Krista Gordon gave a lengthy presentation to address concerns and discuss up-to-date plans for the potential wind farm to be located southwest of Hays.
As expected, plans for the 10,000-acre project, which has been in the works for four years, include between 130 and 135 turbines, which will be 389 feet tall.
However, one aspect of the planning likely will change. CPV has decided to increase the distance between turbines and the property of landowners who have not entered a lease agreement.
The arbitrary recommendation for this distance was 1,000 feet. While no number has been set in stone, this number will more than double, Gordon said.
“I’m going to do the utmost to give people in the middle of the project who are not participating as much space as I can,” she said. “We’re trying to be a good neighbor.”
Kansas is ranked ninth in the United States for wind-energy production, with 364 megawatts of power, Gordon said.
Of the 48 residents who had signed up to address the commission, only 12 had the chance to speak before the meeting adjourned. One speaker, Harold Kraus, was a wind farm proponent, while the other 10 voiced opposition.
One of these opponents was Don Staab, a Hays attorney, who expressed concern about property rights and urged commissioners to investigate how the project could affect Hays property values.
“As a lawyer, I know that every person, including myself, who owns property or land has property rights in that land,” Staab said. “But when we use our property rights, do we have a right to affect any of our neighbors’ property rights? And I think that’s a question that should be thoroughly investigated.”
However, Bill Wilson, a real-estate appraiser in Geary County, which also is being considered as the site of a wind farm, said property owners have no reason to be concerned.
He and other Manhattan appraisers conducted a study on the wind farm project in Butler County and also visited with appraisers in Gray County, home to the Montezuma wind farm.
Neither county reported a change in property values – the amount of fluctuation for property located near the turbines was parallel to the county-wide changes, he said.
“There’s a number (of people) that are resisting already. Obviously when it’s brand new, people are interested, concerned and they should be,” Wilson said. “But … Butler County’s a rural area, probably as rural or more rural than this, but there was no affect on the value of the properties.”
Bruce Rupp, a teacher with Hays USD 489, expressed concern about how this project could alter the prairie environment. If birds are killed by turbine blades, this would increase the presence of predators such as foxes and coyotes.
However, Gordon said wind energy is a clean, renewable source of power, which produces zero emissions and is environmentally friendly.
While early wind turbines were a hazard to fowl, this problem has been vindicated with improved technology, she said.
“A housecat, on average, will kill eight birds a year,” Gordon said. “A wind turbine will kill one or two.”
Economic effect has been another concern, particularly in regards to county funding and road maintenance.
In lieu of taxes, the project expects to enter a binding contract with the Ellis County Commission, which would include the company making a $600,000 annual contribution to the county’s general fund.
In addition to this agreement, the contract would hold CPV responsible for road maintenance costs associated with the project, Gordon said.
Furthermore, the company intends to use local businesses as much as possible. Plans include the purchase of a large amount of concrete from a local contractor, as well as using area crane, excavation, road-building and trenching services, she said.
“Besides being good business, it’s a good logistical thing to do,” Gordon said. “If the resources are right here, why not use them? And it’s good for the county.”
Negotiations also are under way between CPV and Fort Hays State University to develop a working relationship, she said.
While it is too early in the process to release specifics, the project could involve placing a couple of towers on agriculture-zoned land near campus, the revenue of which would benefit the university, Gordon said.
“Both the project and university very much want to take advantage of the resources the other has to offer,” she said.
There had been some question by the applicant, CPV, if relocating the meeting was in compliance with notice requirement statutes. However, the only provision the statute requires is that notice of the meeting be published 20 days in advance, said Ellis County Counselor Bill Jeter.
“Once the meeting starts, the commission has the right to adjourn to another place, as long as where they’re going is reasonable in time and scope,” Jeter said. “I think it was very reasonable to move it to Memorial Union.”
Another concern with the initial location was the fact that so many residents were stuck in the hallway because of space constraints.
“The public hearing is for the purpose of allowing the public to express comments and opinions,” he said. “It was getting so crowded, and there were so many people in the hall, that I wasn’t sure that really would have been accomplished.”
While no date for the postponed public hearing has been scheduled, Jeter said he will recommend that the county wait the allotted 20 days before reconvening.
CPV and the commission, which will have its next meeting in regular session April 25, must agree upon the date.
Whenever the hearing resumes, it will continue where it left off and with the same public comment list, said Dale Wing, zoning administrator.
With the potential exception of early zoning meetings, last night’s attendance was the best the commission has seen, he said.
“We had a good attendance and some good comments,” Wing said. “I was really pleased with the way it went, for the most part.”
By Kaley Lyon
Hays Daily News
28 march 2007
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