May 3, 2017

Reno County Commission asked to zone land within 5 mile radius of former air base

By John Green, Staff writer | The Hutchinson News | May 2, 2017 |

A representative of a nonprofit organization that operates the Sunflower gliderport at the former Hutchinson Air Base south of Yoder asked the Reno County Commission on Tuesday to zone a 5-mile radius around the old airport to control potential development of windfarms in the region.

The commission was initially scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday on a request for a permit for a meteorological tower on land next to the runway, but the applicant withdrew the zoning request prior to the meeting, after the Reno County Planning Commission voted April 20 against allowing the permit.

Though the application was withdrawn, Andrew Peters expressed concern Tuesday that development might still occur.

The planning board noted at its hearing that land just west or south of the runway is not zoned, so the developer would not need a permit to erect the 196-foot tower nearby.

“The purpose of a meteorological tower was to collect wind profile data that can be used in determining a suitable location for a wind farm,” Peters said. “There are currently two such towers collecting this data, one near Nickerson and the other south of Andale. This proposed site was approximately halfway between the two existing towers.”

A study commissioned by the Kansas Department of Transportation showed wind nacelles “produce wake vortices – horizontal tornadoes – that can be hazardous to small aircraft up to 3 miles downwind from the windmill,” Peters claimed.

The report studied turbines near regional airports in Rook County and Pratt. Neither was in direct line with a runway, so the turbulence could extend further, Peters suggested.

“This turbulence hazard is in addition to the structural hazard a 400- to 500-foot windmill poses to aircraft,” he said.

While the FAA regulates the navigable airspace, “typically between 500 and 1,000 feet above the ground,” except around public airports, it’s up to local authorities to regulate the space below 500 feet, Peters said.

“There currently exists a gap in how the land in Reno County is zoned,” he noted. “Unzoned land is unmonitored and uncontrolled. It is not exposed to the requirement to apply for and receive use permits, and neighbors are not provided the due process of a public hearing.”

“The Sunflower Soaring Foundation, on behalf of the public that uses the Sunflower gliderport, request that the Reno County Com-missioners act to rezone all the unzoned land within a 5-mile radius around Sunflower, as soon as possible. This will ensure the county be notified prior to any restricted activity, such as windmill construction being started. And it will permit the affected neighbors to have a public hearing to express their desires.”

Peters then suggested the commission extend the zoning expansion beyond just around the airport, going countywide.

Commissioner Chairman Dan Deming advised Peters to take his concerns to the Planning Commission and planning staff to research.

“I have no intent of having you appear and then the issue just disappear,” Deming said. “We need to study the possibilities and look at the legal ramifications.”

Commissioner Hirst asked Peters if he’s explored extending a safe zone outside of 5 miles of the runway.

“I originally drafted my comments at 10 miles, but thought it was little too aggressive,” he said. “Five miles is what the study showed. It’s a reasonable number for a protected zone.”

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