ERIE – If the Neosho County Commission meetings were a Broadway show, they could raise funds through the box office.
Audience numbers have been up substantially since debate began over the Neosho Ridge wind energy project, and the public forum portion of Friday’s agenda had to be relocated to the larger courtroom to accommodate the crowd.
Opponents Shirley Dillinger-Estrada and her husband John Estrada moved to Neosho County two months ago from Arlington, Texas, before they found out about the project.
“I had a vision of where I wanted to live. I bought a view. I have a panoramic view of the countryside,” Dillinger-Estrada said. “Wind turbines were not part of the view in my life. If I wanted to live by a wind farm, I would have chosen to live in west Texas.”
“We didn’t buy this property to see our values go down,” John Estrada said.
Galesburg farmer Greg Brumgardt has signed a lease with Apex Clean Energy, the company constructing the electric generation project. He said the county should welcome the business, which he said would increase the tax base for the USD 101 school district. He said the district leads the state in ad valorem levy, and dropping farm prices will decrease valuations, requiring levy increases.
Brumgardt said the project would create jobs for young people.
“I don’t think it’s going to be 60-year-old fat guys climbing up and down these towers every day,” he said.
Opponent Marshall Fisher seemed to become emotional discussing the project, and Debra Weidert said she had concerns about her rights as a landowner being affected by other property owners.
The commission also heard from opponents Leroy Burk, Dale Jeffrey and Dustie Elsworth and supporter Ron Vyhlindal, who have addressed the board previously.
Elsworth presented a petition with 40 signatures opposing the project, adding to the 50 submitted last week.
Commissioner David Bideau read the names from 17 postcards and 18 letters in favor of the project, adding to 23 letters and postcards last week. Commissioners also read the names of supporters and opponents from last week, at the request of the audience.
Wilber Kennedy said that if a landowner wants to rent to the energy project, he should be able to the same as if one leased to an oil and gas company. Kennedy also questioned Commissioner Paul Westhoff about issues involving an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim raised last week, and an insurance claim Westhoff filed on a personal vehicle damaged by a rock ejected from a county grass mower.
Milford Hall spoke with the commission about a request for a cattle crossing sign and about other signs during the nearly two-hour public forum. Commissioners discussed whether to schedule evening meetings to hear comments. Bideau said he does not want to limit speakers to three minutes, as some government entities do with public forums.
After reconvening in the commission room, Chanute Regional Development Authority Director Matt Godinez met with the board to propose a roundtable workshop with cities and taxing entities to make sure everyone is on the same page about Neighborhood Revitalization Program requirements.
Godinez also reported that officials are searching for a national name-brand chain hotel to come to Chanute. He said the newly-opened Holiday Inn Express sells out Mondays through Thursdays. Godinez also reported the Tractor Supply store is selling an unexpected number of large-ticket items.
Commissioners met with Steve Prasco of Advantage Computers to discuss preventing malware and employee internet abuse.
They also gave ambulance director Trace Hallack permission to repair an ambulance after receiving an $8,545 estimate. The ambulance was stolen in August and involved in a shooting-related chase. Parts that were bloodstained will be replaced, but the frame was not damaged. The estimate does not include towing or rental of a replacement ambulance at $100 a day since Aug. 8. Hallack said the replacement may take another month.
Commissioners also discussed health insurance, which is projected to increase 6 percent in premium rates.
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