ERIE – Opponents of a planned wind generation facility in southwest Neosho County told commissioners Friday morning that the issue will go to court. They also pushed for an absent commissioner to vote on the measure.
“I hope it doesn’t come to any bloodshed,” opponent Dale Jeffrey said.
Some opponents said the developer, Apex Clean Energy, is moving ahead with the project until it is too late to prevent it.
“Your inaction is going to cause us to be reactive,” Jeffrey told commissioners. “The longer it goes, the more difficult it’s going to become.”
Opponent Ed Spielbusch said Apex is trying to circumvent the commission, and there appears to be stalling.
“No matter what you do, you’re going to have a lawsuit,” Jeffrey said.
Opponents have asked for a moratorium, and 1st District Commissioner Paul Westhoff, whose district covers all of the territory for the windmills, made a motion for one, but 3rd District Commissioner David Bideau would not second it. 2nd District Commissioner Jennifer Orr was not present, and has not attended meetings since the end of November.
Orr has notified County Counselor Seth Jones of her intention to resign at the end of January, but Jones said he does not feel an email is sufficient. Written notice must go to the Kansas Governor’s office and to County Clerk Randal Neely, who was also out of the office Friday.
Jones said if Orr does not provide a written resignation, County Attorney Linus Thuston would be the one to start ouster proceedings. Jones said it has been discussed, and he would talk to Thuston.
Neither Bideau nor Westhoff can contact Orr about attendance, since such discussion about county business would provide a quorum and possible open meetings violation. Some opponents asked about efforts to contact Orr and get her to attend, just for a vote on the wind project.
“I will be on Jennifer Orr like a tick on a hound dog,” Kim Norris said.
Norris, who said she was attending her first commission meeting, said the opponents at Friday’s meeting represented the majority of the county.
Commissioners held a public forum with an estimated 30 to 50 people in a basement meeting room, then moved to the smaller commission chamber for the rest of the meeting, with more than a dozen people present. During the regular meeting, commissioners also heard from opponents Jeffrey and Spielbusch, former county commissioner Stan Basler, and Norris on behalf of LeRoy Burk, who asked to be on the agenda.
‘Green phony energy’
During the forum, opponent Dale Cooper called wind generation “green phony energy.”
“It’s not green and it’s not free,” he said, claiming that the facility would throw three to four blades a year and compared the windmill blades to those of a Boeing 747.
Spielbusch warned of turbine fires and failures.
“If they happen once, that’s too many,” he said.
Burk said that the people the county is working with have lied, and Apex has not negotiated “one iota.”
“A few big landowners, one of them don’t even live” inside the county, Burk said.
Opponent Doug Reed said the windmills would “ruin lives.”
Opponent Dustie Elsworth offered a photo of a proposed windmill site located 861 feet from a non-participating house, and a map of non-participant landowners with absentee and off-site leaseholders.
Apex has proposed placing 100 to 130 windmills in an area of roughly 61 square miles, and has submitted 174 possible sites to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval. One opponent said 28 windmills would be in a two-mile radius of his home, an area of roughly 13 square miles.
Opponents also say the project opens the door to future development.
“In Chanute, it’s going to be right up to your back door,” Jeffrey said.
“We’re planting this tumor right in the middle of people,” one opponent said. “It’s screwing up my county.”
Jeffrey said Apex directed a researcher to look for a type of milkweed during the winter, when it is not active, instead of the spring.
“Apex is going to give you bad information,” Jeffrey said. “I sometimes wonder what you’re doing to earn your money,” he told Bideau.
During the later meeting, Basler said he had prepared a resolution that would require setbacks of 1,200 feet from a property line and 3,000 feet from a structure, and set noise levels.
“Inaction here leaves the door open,” he said. “This ship’s going to leave the dock.”
Basler said he wanted to find a win-win solution.
“I don’t know that there’s a win-win situation,” Bideau said. “A lot of people don’t want wind, period.”
Norris, who said she lives at Udall and 146th Roads and outside of the project area, said that 70 percent of the lease payments would benefit one family, which she refused to name. Other opponents at the forum said only 30 percent of the leaseholders live in the area.
Norris called Bideau’s business operation and the lack of a policy for wind farms “half-assed.”
“You’ve not done any due diligence,” she said.
Opponents have said the proposed area is too densely populated, and Bideau asked what that meant. He said he had seen a reference that defined “densely populated” as one residence per acre. Norris showed a map from the University of Kansas which defined the area as “densely populated rural area.”
Opponent Lori Whitworth urged those attending to contact Bideau individually. Bideau said he has talked with Apex representatives and would speak with anyone.
Bideau said even if Orr is in the minority, having her present legitimizes the vote.
“The 2nd District needs a representative,” he said.
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