COLUMBUS – The addition of another wind farm in the area has one county official upset even though a location has yet to be set.
Loup Public Power District President and CEO Neal Suess told the Platte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that an agreement has been reached between the local utility and Omaha-based Bluestem Energy Solutions for a 6.9-megawatt wind farm. It will join Creston Ridge Wind Farm, which is a 6.8-megawatt farm with four wind turbines that is close to being operational.
The new development will have three wind turbines, and Suess said it will likely be constructed near the same area as Creston Ridge south of Creston.
He said plans are to hold open houses in the Humphrey and Creston areas in January or February so people can voice their thoughts and concerns about the project.
Supervisor Tom Martens said the public should have had the opportunity to speak about the project before it was even approved by the Loup Public Power District Board of Directors last week.
Not allowing people to have their say ahead of time seems like the project is “coming in through the back door again,” Martens said.
“This is one of the situations I wish we had county zoning. I haven’t proposed county zoning in the past because we have got along pretty well without it. But maybe it’s time to look at that situation again. I hate to say it, but maybe it is so we have control over where some things are put to protect the people in the area, to protect the neighbors,” Martens said.
Suess said only the contract for the project has been approved, not the location, and there were restrictions on the timing of the contract to get the cheapest pricing for the district.
Also during the meeting, the board went into executive session twice for two different issues regarding Platte County Highway Superintendent Terry Wicht.
The first closed session focused employee conduct within the highway department and the other concerned projects in the one-year road plan. The board has held several discussions about Wicht and his department over recent months.
The executive sessions lasted about 90 minutes combined. At the conclusion of the first session, a motion was passed to give Wicht a “written notice to improve his communication skills in a manner to avoid discrepancies in the future.” Another motion, that there be a written statement that addresses the one-year road plan and its efficiency, failed to pass.
There was opposition at the start of the meeting to approve the agenda because of the inclusion to discuss the one-year road plan issue. Supervisor Jerry Engdahl questioned if it should be on the agenda and accused Supervisor Ron Pfeifer of harassing Wicht and employees in highway department.
“I think his (Pfeifer’s) constant harassment and micromanaging of the road department employees is affecting the moral of the department and is creating a hostile work environment. This board needs to stop enabling his efforts in order to protect the county,” Engdahl said.
Pfeifer denied the accusation.
“There seems to be a perception that if you don’t agree with someone that it is harassment. There has never been any harassment,” he said.
The agenda was approved after a third vote by the board.
In other action, the board approved:
• spending up to $11,000 to modify the county court room. Included in the modification will be adjustments to the judge and stenographer benches, new council tables and cabinets to store supplies.
• purchasing three Microsoft Surface Pro tablets for the victim’s assistance office at a cost of $4,167.
• paying $421.29 to members of the Granville Cemetery Association for mileage and mowing of Granville Cemetery.
• reappointing Marlene Vetick, clerk of district court, to the Platte County Sheriff’s Merit Commission.
• signing a five-year contract with Encartele Inc., which is the telephone service provider for the Platte County Detention Facility. The contract includes $10,000 in calling cards in each of the next five years, as well as the purchase and installation of nine televisions. The TVs will be set up in each pod in the jail and have scrolling information for inmates who wish to file a complaint with the appropriate agency under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Jails are required to provide inmates with the information to be compliant with PREA regulations.
• purchasing two Caterpillar all-wheel-drive motor graders from Nebraska Machinery for the county highway department at a cost of $274,950 each.
• buying a 2010 Ford F-350 pickup for the county weed department for $19,000.
• increasing the annual salaries for Deputy County Attorneys Breanna Anderson and Elizabeth Lay starting next month. Anderson’s salary will be $54,275 and Lay’s will be $53,398. The board approved raises for both of them at a previous meeting. Since then, Chief Deputy Attorney Tonia Soukup has taken a job with Butler and Colfax counties. Because of that, County Attorney Carl Hart requested the two remaining attorneys receive pay increases to meet the salary requirement that at least one deputy be paid at 65 percent of the official’s salaries.
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