It was standing room only at the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Wednesday evening as commissioners continued to review current zoning regulations.
The board heard from three individuals who had prepared suggestions to revise the current zoning document, which was approved by the county commission in 2006.
“I would just like to thank the people that put the time in to do it,” Commissioner Gary Luea said following the presentations, as the audience burst into applause.
There also were moments of tension, as commissioners began to review a proposal submitted by J.P. Michaud presented last month regarding zoning regulations for wind farms.
Several proposed revisions were tabled for further consideration, including specifying red lights are preferred at night to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards and decommissioning bonds.
Michaud had suggested changing the language to require an “appropriate continuous renewal bond amount” for each wind turbine for decommissioning, should the project not operate for a year.
The current regulations call for a decommissioning plan and land reclamation. It was agreed to consider stipulating the need for a bond to protect the county.
The proposed changes also suggested a signed statement be required from landowners entering easement agreements. This statement would hold the landowner financially responsible, should the project operator fail to reclaim the site and remove turbines no longer in use.
This was a point of contention for the board. Some commissioners spoke in favor of this provision, while others opposed it.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem with (it) being on there,” Commissioner Bill Poland said. “If I collect that money all those years, I need to accept some responsibility. That sure puts some responsibility on (the company) to pay the bond.”
Other commissioners rejected the suggestion, saying such a provision would eliminate the possibility of wind farms in the county.
“If we sign this, there’s no way we’ll ever have wind farms in Ellis County,” Commissioner Dick Klaus said. “There’s no farmer who would sign this with this stipulation on there.”
Following a lengthy discussion, commissioners agreed to table further consideration until the next meeting, which will be April 16.
Chairman Gene Bittel also requested Dennis Davidson, county counselor for issues pertaining to the wind farm proposal, to further investigate the issue.
When it comes to the entire revision process, it’s important to remember that the county commission has the final authority, and can add additional stipulations in its resolution, he said.
“We’ve got to remember that the county commissioners have the ability to add things and strike things,” Chairman Gene Bittel said. “If we put too much in, we don’t even have a discussion because nobody comes.”
Commissioners also accepted Michaud’s recommendation of specifying turbine color as a non-reflective, non-obtrusive color that must be pre-approved.
Poland asked Iberdrola Project Manager Krista Gordon what colors commonly are used for such projects. Gordon said light gray or white are the two choices.
The issue of noise emission also was discussed, as well as the possibility of adopting a county noise ordinance. While this would be enacted by the county commissioners, zoning commissioners agreed they could make a recommendation, but no decision was reached.
The changes proposed by Michaud on behalf of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition also suggest setback distances of 1 mile from inhabited structures, and state noise emissions should not exceed 40 decibels for any period of time.
“Given the noise level, the setbacks he asked for, all of that … what would that do for wind power projects in Ellis County?” Bittel asked.
“The way things are written in here, there wouldn’t be wind projects in Ellis County,” Gordon said. “You could find a few spots for like five turbines, but you couldn’t do anything close to the size of a commercial scale wind project like we’ve proposed or what you see in other spots in Kansas.”
“I guess I have a question,” Vice-Chair Barbara Anderson said as discussion continued. “Why are we asking the person who’s coming in wanting to do this. Why are we asking her opinions?
“We’re supposed to go over this, and we’re going to have to decide,” she said as another burst of applause sounded.
In other business:
* The board heard from Rose Ann Dreiling, John Schmeidler and Luanne Kramer, who presented their proposed amendments to the zoning regulations.
By Kaley Lyon
26 March 2007
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