By unanimous decision, the Pratt County commissioners approved the application for the NextEra Ninnescah Wind Energy Farm Monday night.
There is now a 30-day period to file an appeal with the Pratt County District Court if someone disagrees with the decision.
The project will feature 120 generators, 119 lease holders and cover 121,000 acres.
David Gill, project director for NextEra, said he was happy with the commissioners’ unanimous decision. There are a few provisions that need to be finalized before the document is in its final form.
“We need to get them wrapped up,” Gill said. “I’m looking forward to starting construction.”
He did not, however, predict a starting date.
Pratt County Commission Chair Joe Reynolds said the county would see many benefits from the project including jobs during and after construction, PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments coming into the county and payments going to participants.
“I think it’s a great deal,” Reynolds said.
The project will take place in the southeast portion of the county and will connect with a power line, also in the development stage, through Kingman County and connect with a substation in Sedgwick County.
Because of the number of interested parties, the portion of the commission meeting dealing with the wind farm was moved to the District Courtroom where there was standing room only with over 50 in attendance.
Several issues were discussed including shutting down turbines within two miles of a whooping crane landing, mitigate avian mortality and loss of habitat.
Audience members were giving the opportunity to speak. Greg Bacon said the application has not been complete. The avian winter study is not done, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has not received a map of the study yet.
“It’s (the application) not ready for approval tonight,” Bacon said. “I’m not saying don’t approve it. Lets send it back to the (planning) board so the system can work.”
He was also concerned that the pilot payments were not enforceable and it was just a promise and not on a contract.
Dwane DeWeese spoke in favor of the project even though he will not have a generator on his property. He said NextEra must be making their payments or they would not be in business and it would be in the papers.
Landowner Pat Brant said this would help create jobs and help convince Pratt’s children to come back to Pratt to settle.
Brandon Bortz said one of the towers was located within 10 feet of a fence and there was supposed to be a 500-foot setback from fences. Several towers needed to be setback for the same reason.
Tim Branscom, county planning and zoning administrator, said the zoning regulations on the matter were hard to follow in the zoning regulations. Changes are being made to clarify the matter and determine if a fence is an accessory or primary structure.
Gill said if generators were prohibited near fences, they couldn’t build anywhere.
There was concern about some species of darter fish and frogs but those animals are on wetlands and wind farms avoid building on those areas the most so it would not be an issue.
Much discussion was held to determine how much time and what method of notification would be used when turning wind generators on and off for crop spraying. A previous day notice and a three-hour time span were agreed upon as well as generators in a two-mile area would be turned off. If a spraying is delayed or cancelled the applicator had to notify NextEra to prevent any kind of incident. Electronic confirmation would also be required for both applicator and NextEra.
An effect easement for those not wanting to participate but within the project site was discussed. Gill said he had spoken with three parties but no agreement had been reached and he was willing to talk with those non-participants in the project that had already expressed concerns about the project.
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