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Neighbors voice opposition to wind farm

The scene was cozy in Tim and Penny Davis’ country living room Thursday evening. A group of 13 wind farm “neighbors” had gathered to discuss research pertaining to the proposed Ellis County wind farm in the form of an informal press briefing.

A candid conversation prevailed as residents, who are members of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, sipped iced tea and nibbled on fruit bread.

“We need as many people as possible to be informed,” said Rod Bittel. “One of the things we’ve found out is that a lot of people didn’t know very much.”

Group members were quick to admit that, until about a month ago, they hadn’t been very informed either. That changed when these neighbors realized that, if approved, the proposed Ellis County wind farm would be located in their own neighborhood.

“Every question needs to be asked, and we need to find the answer,” Bittel said.

Many toted notebooks or piles of research papers. They’ve been setting aside as many as five or six hours each day for research, said Pat Bittel.

Some of the information they have found, such as concerns about interruption of emergency communications, Competitive Power Ventures Inc. did not have an answer for, group members said.

“We found the research,” Pat Bittel said. “If we could find the research at night on our computers, shouldn’t the company or the government be able to locate that?”

One of their main concerns is a lack of governmental protection, said Tim Davis.

“Geary County has 28 pages of regulations that cover these things,” Davis said. “Our zoning document has a page of regulations that cover turbines. That’s the only protection the county has, since there are no federal or state guidelines.”

While these neighbors have been labeled “Not In My Backyard Obstructionists” or “conspiracy theorists” or “radicals,” the group simply wants to make its concerns about the proposed location known, said Jacinta Faber.

Faber agrees that the lack of governmental regulations is a heavy concern.

“That’s where we really feel quite vulnerable. We feel like we don’t have any protection,” she said. “And understanding, this is all new, this is a new industry. This is not a well-established industry, and so there will be mistakes that will be made, but we don’t want to, in a sense, be the victims of those mistakes.”

This becomes especially frustrating when research suggests there have been problems with the wind industry, Faber said.

“So many things have occurred, and nobody really seems to be listening to that,” she said. “There are some major concerns about health … it’s all about the location.”

Over the past month, these neighbors have been drawn together and formed ties because of their common concerns. However, this issue also deeply has divided this rural neighborhood, Tim Davis said.

“It’s really created this incredible divide,” Davis said. “It’s sad what it’s done to the community, it’s really sad.”

Davis said he has made an effort to open communication with his neighbors, but to no avail.

While emotions are running high, the group realizes the importance of respect and professionalism, Rod Bittel said.

“We try to be respectful,” Bittel said. “I mean, we all have a lot of anger, and we’re going to be controlled and professional about it. But (the proponents) are used to having their way. It’s so obvious – they’re having tantrums.”

Several people involved in Thursday’s discussion, including Glenn and Becky Diehl, said they consider their current residences to be their “dream homes,” and have substantial investments in their property, both in terms of finances and personal happiness.

“When Becky and I bought that quarter section of land, we paid a lot of money for it. I mean, when we bought that land at that auction, people said we were crazy,” Glenn Diehl said. “It’s just an unbelievable view. You can’t get a better view, 3 miles away from Hays, Kansas.”

If the proposed wind development gets the OK from county commissioners, all residents said they’ll likely be looking for a new place to call home.

“We won’t live around these turbines because it’s dangerous for my children. I will not live in a community that does not care about the health and safety of my kids,” Pat Bittel said. “All of these are going to be in my front yard. I can’t sit there and watch the landscape being raped.”

By Kaley Lyon

Hays Daily News


4 May 2007