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Westhoff’s motion in wind project conflict dies for lack of second

ERIE – Once again, a motion against the proposed Neosho Ridge wind electrical generation project failed to draw a second at Thursday evening’s Neosho County Commission meeting, when matters came to clash over a 1,000-foot setback.

Development manager for Apex Clean Energy, Jade Scheele, said a setback of more than 1,000 feet ends the conversation, although Apex has agreed to a setback of 1,640 feet from the middle of properties that are not involved in leases.

“If you can’t go more than 1,000, I’m done,” Commissioner Paul Westhoff said. “Let’s just get this done. No windmills.”

Apex has signed leases in about 44,000 acres for 139 windmills to generate up to 300 megawatts of electricity, which non-leasing residents in the area want to stop. They have asked for setbacks of 2,000 feet from non-leasing property lines and 4,000 feet from non-leasing residences.

After Westhoff’s motion failed, opponent Lori Whitworth asked why the commission stopped short.

“Every time we’re here, they dangle something else,” she said. “Why can’t we make that formal?”

Before Westhoff’s motion, Scheele told commissioners that Apex does not have a final layout for the windmills because of the issue of an agreement on the setback distance, and asked for guidance on the setbacks. She said they could provide a map of proposed sites, but it would not be final until the setback distance was approved. Commissioner David Bideau said he would not be comfortable looking at information that other people would not see.

Apex plans to hold an informational meeting with experts at 6:30 pm Jan. 24 at the Neosho County Community College auditorium. Whitworth asked if it would be possible to have a forum of experts with other views.

Scheele gave commissioners printed copies of a report on the economic impact of the windmill project. She said the report also is online at https://www.neoshoridgewind.com.

Before Scheele’s presentation, several residents voiced objections to the project. Opponent Denise Houghton said the windmills disrupt hormone balance and children are susceptible, but where her opinion stemmed was unknown.

“They disrupt the natural circadian rhythm of our bodies,” she said, but provided no studies to back up her assertion.

Erie resident Debra Lovell said Apex’s leases limit the property owners’ ability to add buildings, and would exempt Apex from later laws. She said Apex only pays based on the amount of electricity generated.

“That’s all you get paid for. Period,” she said. Apex has assured the county that the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) contribution amount is based on the total capacity of the project, not the percentage of operational rate.

Cheryl Burk said an agreement for PILOT obligates the county to other agreements for road use and decommissioning, which are actually separate agreements the county can negotiate.

One person compared talking to the commission to talking to three-year-olds, which drew an objection from Commissioner Jennifer Orr.

Opponents also took issue with the handling of public comments at the start of meetings, and their ability to get on the commission agenda. They also raised concerns about an attorney, specializing in wind generation, who advised the commission and what advice she gave.

County Counselor Seth Jones did not offer any information, citing attorney-client confidentiality.

“Don’t say that to me,” Whitworth said. “That’s an excuse.”

Jones also said it was not in the county’s best interest to “give away our hand” by letting everyone know what action the county might take.

LeRoy Burke asked if the attorney was hired and paid.

“You’re dodging the question,” he said. “You hired it with our money.”

Burke said it was absolutely false that a moratorium would lead to a general zoning policy, although that would be an opening to other complaints about everything from oil and gas pump jacks to the smell of cow manure. A moratorium on this issue could force the county to zone the entire area.

Orr raised the issue of whether eminent domain would apply in the controversy, but Whitworth said it would not be possible to build the windmills under eminent domain.