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Wind farm concerns brought before commission  

Ellis County commissioners faced a long agenda Monday after last’s week’s meeting was canceled so commissioners could attend the funeral for Rich Koerner, an employee of Ellis County.

Discussion of the proposed wind farm development surfaced twice throughout the approximately five-hour meeting.

Catherine resident John Schmeidler had been on the agenda to address the board May 29 but was not listed on Monday’s agenda. In an insert item, Schmeidler discussed concerns about the protest petition relating to the conditional-use permit filed by wind developers for the proposed Ellis County project.

“A couple of things have come up,” Schmeidler said. “As you know, I met with you on April the second and asked a bunch of questions and hoped to get some answers. Those have not been forthcoming.”

One concern is that the Ellis County Joint Planning Commission Procedural Guide states the conditional-use permit should have been accompanied by a list of names and mailing addresses of all property owners within the notification area.

According to the manual, the notification area is all property within a 1,000-foot radius of and including the property for which the conditional-use permit is requested, since the project area is in an unincorporated part of the county.

“This list should be obtained from a licensed abstractor,” the guide states.

Schmeidler said Iberdrola now is in the process of obtaining a professional field abstract, but this documentation should have been included with the conditional use permit application filed March 3.

“I hope everybody knows that because that is required in our zoning regulations, and that it should be attached to the application, that application … is incomplete,” he said. “That should probably not have even been accepted. There are all kinds of ramifications. One thing I don’t want to happen is I don’t want this to be drug out any more than it already has been.”

Not having this official list makes it difficult to discern the protest area, Schmeidler said.

Schmeidler predicted the list of property owners to be obtained from a Field Abstract and Title Co. could take a week or two.

The Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission could make a decision Wednesday night, closing the hearing and beginning the allotted time for residents to file a protest petition, which is 14 days after the hearing closes.

Schmeidler requested written guidelines regarding the protest area, so that county officials and protesters could have the same list to work with.

“The problem is that we might be working off of two different lists – what we understand the perimeter area to be and what the Field Abstract is going to come up with,” Schmeidler said. “If it takes them two weeks from Wednesday to get their list done, our time will have come to an end in order to prepare our protest petition.”

If this cannot be obtained prior to the planning commission’s decision, Schmeidler asked if the protest time could be extended to ensure the documentation is completed correctly.

Krista Gordon, project manager for the proposed Ellis County project, verified this morning that it should be complete in a week. It likely was an oversight on behalf of the company to have not completed one earlier, she said.

Because Dennis Davidson, the Russell attorney who is acting as Ellis County counselor for this application, was not present, commissioners agreed not to take action.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of revising zoning guidelines in the future.

“A lot of stuff needs to be rewritten,” Commissioner Perry Henman said. “We’re finding the problems now.”

“There’s no such thing as perfect regulations,” Chairman Vernon Berens said. “That will never happen, but we can make changes in things as they come up.”

Commissioners agreed to request that Davidson be present for next week’s meeting, and Schmeidler also agreed to return then.

In other business, Gordon discussed a potential decommissioning agreement and annual payment in lieu of taxes. Commissioners were presented with letters of intent outlining the company’s goals for county payment.

“These are not contracts or agreements in themselves,” Gordon said. “They’re the terms that we would envision to be included in such agreement or a contract.”

Both letters state the information was conveyed for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as consideration for issuance of the conditional-use permit by Ellis County.

According to the decommissioning letter of intent, CPV Wind Hays LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA, would remove all above-ground structures as well as foundations to a sub-surface depth of 3 feet.

The remaining foundations would be covered with a soil that matches surrounding soil as closely as possible, and collection cables would be retired in place unless otherwise agreed to by the landowner and CPV, the letter states.

Any damage done to county roads during the decommissioning process will be repaired at the expense of CPV, according to the letter.

The company would coordinate efforts with Ellis County public works in consideration of county roads, except in the case of project road removal, which would be decided by the landowners without county cost or involvement, according to the letter.

The letter of intent also states grass seed mixtures for soil restoration at least would be reviewed by the Natural Resource Conservation Service and that a decommissioning and site restoration plan will be presented if the permit is issued for the project.

Easement agreements entered by landowners also include a financial decommissioning security for turbines that would be on their land, Gordon said.

Berens asked what the foundation for the turbines would be.

While it hasn’t been finalized, Gordon estimated the Hays project would be built with a spread-footing foundation, for which dimensions would be approximately 40 feet by 40 feet and 8 feet deep, she said.

The letter of intent regarding a payment in lieu of taxes states the company would make an annual payment to the county in the amount of $3,000 per megawatt of capacity. The proposed project is a 200-megawatt facility, which would amount to $600,000 annually. The letter also states these payments would increase by 1 percent each year; the project’s life is estimated at 35 years.

The county could utilize this funding however commissioners see fit. CPV would have no authority in dictating how the annual payments would be spent, the letter states.

According to the letter, commissioners also would have the option of allocating any portion of the payment in lieu of taxes to local schools.

Both letters also state CPV is authorized by the Kansas Secretary of State to transact business as an LLC. This status would be retained by successors.

Gordon asked commissioners if the company could begin to work with Ellis County public works in solidifying the decommissioning agreement. That request was denied.

The county commission has made no commitment regarding the proposal. Following a recommendation from the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the conditional-use permit, the project will pass to the county commission for a final decision.

By Kaley Lyon

Hays Daily News

5 June 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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