It has been commented to me a few times on trips to Hays how the Ellis County planners eager for economic growth in Hays and Ellis County are being shortsighted by voting for the wind farm.
It has been argued that the only benefits to the county will be a small financial gain to a few local landowners, will only bring a small handful of permanent low-paying maintenance jobs and – for a short time while a large construction crew is in the area – retailers, hotel and restaurant owners will benefit. Also, with decrease of home values, all the other county property owners will have an increase in their tax rates. On the surface, it would seem true that the planners are being shortsighted. But one could look deeper and imagine the possibilities the county planners might be considering and realize maybe that their actions are for the long term and are not fully being appreciated.
Considering that low paying jobs in the area are difficult to fill now, and if scores of temporary construction workers come to Hays and what had happened in several southwestern Kansas towns with labor shortages, it’s most likely an influx of workers will move to Hays, creating an opportunity for many other entrepreneurs. Out in the Yocomento area and all along U.S. Highway 40 where land is bound to get extremely cheap, there should be plenty of room for a couple of trailer parks, low-income apartment complexes, stores of all kinds, bars and clubs, all combined generating much more taxes than the few current homeowners whose properties get devalued or abandoned. That’s long-term thinking.
I’m sure the zoning guys are sympathetic to the Yocemento homeowners but sacrifices have to be made, like other potential homeowners will notice they just picked the wrong county to build their dream homes in. If they become upside down in the loan and they need to sell at a loss, they should easily be able to pay off the mortgage balance with a second or third part-time job after just a few years or simply file for a Chapter 7. If they could hang on, maybe another salesman will come to town and want to build a nuclear waste dump or munitions factory and need their land but most likely to expand on the business areas any new projects of that magnitude probably would be regulated to the east or north of Hays.
Could also be that the zoning commission is thinking the possibility that the PILOT monies will be a great windfall for the county, no, not just a single annual payment from the owner but hopefully considering the project owners have changed hands several times already it could be that in the 25 years the wind farm is scheduled to be operational that the ownership will get so confusing as the project is traded around that several former owners will mistakingly make payments the same year. Zoning commission meeting pizza money from some but hopefully during good years larger payments will be made from the more generous owners. Some years, the county might have to go looking for the payments, but the county attorney probably won’t mind the extra headache.
After the wind farm construction winds down and those construction workers move on to River City or elsewhere business might be slow for awhile and layoffs probably will occur but like in many other cities across the country, there will now be plenty of day jobbers hanging around convenience stores and street corners looking for work. Many homeowners will have some things to do for those that are down on their luck, and of course windshields always need a good washing. Many laid-off workers could get jobs with the city of Hays and businesses as there will be greater need for more firefighters, police, jailers and store security officers. I’m sure the zoning guys might be thinking the real employment opportunities though are after the life of the wind farm. But if a tragedy were to happen before the demise of the wind farm, such as a northeasterly tornado, as most are, it would put a large part of the unemployed back to work.
If a tornado picks up a prop and spins it through a neighborhood it would create a short-term employment blip as well. Hopefully the damage is confined to a residential area as no businesses should lose out on the trade from the newly homeless, the National Guard, out of state looters and rescue workers. If the prop were to land close to a main street, it could be arched over the road, a giant Gateway to Fort Hays sign bolted on and turned into a tourist attraction.
Certainly that would entice thousands of travelers off of the interstate each year and put many others back to work. After a big lunch at a local restaurant sightseers could read the plaque or even pay to see the wax figures of the county planners who had the remarkable foresight to arrange the events for such a monument to be created.
After it’s finally admitted by all that wind farms aren’t as helpful as thought and it’s closed down or when it’s finally abandoned, the long term economic possibilities are endless. Dozens of new employees will be needed to take down the windmills that haven’t fallen and recycle them. A smelter of some sorts could be built, probably use more energy than the wind farm ever produced but it would be a major employer. A few poles could be used to hold a giant Maypole festival every spring that could potentially bring thousands of participants to Ellis County, during the Christmas season branches and lights could be added to a pole making the largest Christmas tree in Kansas. Sure would beat the heck out of Wakeeney’s famous downtown Christmas tree.
Maybe a tent city that would need to be guarded and maintained by new employees could be fenced in using a few of the remaining poles to house those homeowners who couldn’t sell out and are driven incurably insane by the endless vibrations, noises and stress, also could be used to house prisoners to alleviate the overcrowding at the county jail. Another possibility for additional growth is that Jim Jones IV and his thousands of followers will move to Ellis County believing the windmills will attract the mother spaceship that will relocate them and their businesses to a planet where there is an attractive community with nice views, safe tree-lined streets, a great university and schools, good medical care, and a wise leader that truly cares about the safety of the citizens and maintains good solid growth for the community but where there are no SUVs, McMansions, Paris Hilton, windfarms or zoning boards.
Regardless of the fact it will be detrimental to the residents of a small neighborhood, affect the landscape for a quarter of a century, won’t reduce the usage of fossil fuels much, if any, and the many other reasons the zoning board could have used to make the decision to tell the salesmen no that just wouldn’t have been thinking big. You’ve got to think big. And even if it all fails, oh well, the Ellis County grade-schoolers of today can clean it up in 25 years. Maybe you should ask them.
19 June 2007
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