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Gone with the wind

In a 2-1 decision, the conditional-use permit application for the proposed wind farm was denied by the Ellis County Commission during Monday’s meeting.

Vernon Berens and Dennis Pfannenstiel voted in favor of the conditional-use permit application, while Perry Henman said the county should start the application process over and revisit zoning regulations.

“I’ve been, in the past, for it with conditions. And I’ve sort of changed my mind on that,” Henman said. “I’m pretty much thinking that we need to re-do our zoning rules and regs. They’re insufficient.”

It was standing-room only in the Ellis County commission chambers this morning. More than 40 people and local law enforcement officers were present for the long-awaited decision.

Pfannenstiel made a motion in favor of the project, which included several conditions, such as provision of a decommissioning agreement, a road-maintenance agreement and a minimum distance of 2,000 feet from existing residences.

Henman said, while this motion is a step in the right direction, the county’s zoning regulations need to be improved before such a project should be implemented.

“Here’s our rules and regulations,” Henman said, holding up the 1Ôªø1Ñ2 [sic] pages of wind farm-related zoning regulations. “Now we’re entering a resolution that’s seven pages long. I think the protest people would feel a lot better and there might be less protest if we sat down and did this right from the start.”

Chairman Berens said he agreed with Henman, to a degree.

Berens said that, while zoning regulations might need improvement, there still would be time for negotiation if the permit was granted.

“I think this motion is in the right direction. We will never have a perfect set of regulations,” Berens said. “The towers aren’t up yet. There are some things we need to enter into agreements with. It is up to us to see to it that we implement some of this into our regulations.”

In accordance with zoning regulations, a unanimous decision would have been required to approve the permit application because of a protest petition filed with the Ellis County clerk in June.

Petitions were filed for more than 40 percent of landowners in the area affected by the permit – 20 percent is needed to require a unanimous vote by county commissioners.

Project manager Krista Gordon said she was not surprised by the decision.

“We knew that was a possibility,” she said.

While she said the company has no intention of filing a lawsuit to force the issue, she said it plans to regroup and move ahead with what likely will be another proposal for the wind farm development in Ellis County.

“We have no intention of giving up,” Gordon said.

Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA will have the opportunity to reapply for the zoning permit and start the application process again. In accordance with zoning regulations, the application cannot be reconsidered for at least one year from today.

The vote was good news to some. The Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, a group of residents opposing the wind project, were pleased with the outcome.

“Throughout this application process, it has become apparent that the Ellis County zoning regulations are severely lacking in content to protect the community from ill-sited developments of this kind,” the coalition said in a press release. “Furthermore, the application process itself needs to be revisited, as this development failed to follow the process appropriately.”

By Kaley Lyon

Hays Daily News

4 September 2007