It now appears a public hearing on a conditional use permit application for the Pretty Prairie Wind Farm by NextEra Energy won’t occur until early April.
That after Reno County Planning Commission members looked at calendars during Thursday night’s regular planning commission meeting.
It was unclear if that would impact the project going forward.
A NextEra official advised the Reno County Commission on Tuesday that the company now expected to file its application for conditional use permits for the 80-plus wind turbines in southeast Reno County by Feb. 15.
There is a minimum 20-day wait before there can be a required public hearing on the application, and planning staff indicated it would need at least a week to review the application before publishing notice of the hearing.
The planning board’s regular March meeting would be March 21, but that falls during the NJCAA basketball tournament when County Counselor Joe O’Sullivan would be unavailable because he’s the tournament chair.
The board discussed moving the hearing to a week later, March 28, but member Mary Lynn Baker said she’ll be unavailable due to Spring Break.
Vonachen and several board members agreed it was important to have the full board – which currently has two vacancies – present for the public hearing.
The board then agreed to tentatively schedule the hearing for 3 p.m., April 4, pending the filing of the application by NextEra, and with the location to be determined.
NextEra officials previously laid out a timeline for the project and warned the Reno Commission in November that any delay from a proposed 6-month moratorium – which the commission ultimately turned down – would kill it.
During that meeting, Project Manager Spencer Jenkins said they were expecting to file the permit application before the end of last year, with necessary roads built in March and construction of turbines starting in April.
The project has to be completed before the end of the year to qualify for federal tax breaks and meet a contract agreement with the purchaser of the energy from the wind farm.
The News was waiting on a response from NextEra about the impact of the delay.
Board allows no comment
About two dozen people, many wearing blue shirts and buttons stating “Thank you for Keeping Reno Heavenly,” were present for Thursday night’s meeting, but none were allowed to speak.
Board Chairperson Lisa French, who was elected during the meeting to serve another year as chair, said no public comment period was on the agenda, so it could not be allowed.
At least a half-dozen members of a group, now calling itself Reno County Citizens for Quality of Life, had prepared remarks they were planning to present.
French advised the group no public comment on the issue would be allowed before the public hearing; that everything the board may consider about the permits must be presented only after NexEra files its permit application.
O’Sullivan and County Administrator Gary Meagher were in the audience, but no county commissioners.
After the meeting, members of the group indicated they were going to recommend specific setback requirements for the turbines, based on several studies and what some other countries require, as well as noise restrictions. They declined to detail those recommendations, however.
The group also wants a written complaint resolution process and suggested a “favored nation clause” that would require the developer to give all participating landowners the best terms made available to any landowner allowing a turbine on their property.
They also wanted to press the planning commission to draft regulations for a countywide overlay zone before granting NextEra its permits, though the company has indicated in writing it would comply with the restrictions on development in unzoned parts of the county it agrees to in zoned areas.
The planning commission itself recommended development of an overlay zone, and the County Commission subsequently asked the board to draft one, but there’s apparently no intent to start work on the regulations until the NextEra permits are resolved.
Signs of tension?
The battle over the development has remained civil on the part of both sides at all public meetings, but a proponent for restrictions claimed a NextEra official acted inappropriately this week by removing opposition signs that were in the public right-of-way, requiring Haven police to intervene and retrieve the signs.
Chelsea Wells told The News that several 18-by-24-inch signs, with the “Thank you for Keeping Reno Heavenly” message were in the right-of-way across the street from Haven High School, where NextEra was hosting an informational dinner for landowners. An individual she knew was a NextEra official pulled up the signs on his way into the meeting, and took them into the meeting space.
Wells called Haven Police, who had given her permission to place the signs, and an officer retrieved them from the building. Wells put them back up.
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