The Reno County Commission appointed two new members to the Reno County Planning Commission Tuesday as part of the board’s consent agenda.
The appointments were essential to bring the commission back to a full a full board as the body anticipates taking up an application from NextEra Energy next month for a commercial wind farm in the southeast quadrant of the county.
Appointed were Bruce Buchanan, 62, and Harley Macklin, 80, both of Hutchinson.
Buchanan is a former publisher and president of Harris Enterprises, longtime owner of The Hutchinson News before it sold to Gatehouse Media.
Buchanan said he worked for 36 years with Harris Enterprises, starting at The News in Hutchinson in 1981. He went through the company’s management training program and ended up as publisher of the Parsons Sun in 1984. He went Olathe in 1990 and left after that paper was sold in 1995, returning to Hutchinson.
He was an interim publisher at The News for nine months in 1996 and then went to the Harris Enterprises headquarters. He was named the president of Harris in 2006. After the paper changed ownership in December 2016, he acted as a consultant for a year.
Among the many boards Buchanan has served on, he said, were the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, Kansas Cosmosphere, Reno County Historical Society, Inman Foundation and Inland Press Foundation. He also served 14 years on the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications.
“Since I’ve been retired I haven’t done much community service and thought it was time to start again,” Buchanan said. “It seemed like a good opportunity, and I thought it would be interesting.”
“It takes people to make a community, and if you aren’t willing to serve then you don’t have much of a community,” Buchanan said of his willingness to be on the board as it faces decisions on wind energy, which has become controversial in the county. “I don’t have any preconceived notions. I’m coming into this with a fairly open mind.”
Macklin grew up in Hutchinson, then traveled around the state and world as an electrical engineer in the power industry. That included stints with Kansas Gas and Electric in Wichita, KCPL in Kansas City and then 17 years with Black and Veatch, now headquartered in Overland Park.
“I designed operations, mainly power plants and the startup of power plants,” Macklin said. “I traveled all over the world with Black and Veatch designing, building and teaching power plant startups.”
After returning to Hutchinson eight years ago, he worked as a consulting licensed professional engineer and helped lobby to get an upgraded Westar Energy plant here, he said.
He then spent six years, or two terms, on the Hutchinson Planning Commission.
Other community services since his return included serving on the Red Cross board of directors, as a member of AMBUCS, on the church council at Emmanuel Lutheran, and on the Quarterback Club at Hutchinson Community College.
He just completed a six-year term on the Endowment Board at HCC, the last two years as chairman, and currently serves on the Historic Fox Theatre board.
“I’m a great believer in the college here and their effort to educate people, especially locally, to get people off to a good start on their education,” Macklin said.
Commissioner Ron Sellers, who knew of Macklin’s service on the city planning commission while Sellers was on the city council, asked Macklin if he’d be interested in serving on the county board, Macklin said.
He also knew and worked with Mark Richardson, whose death resulted in one of the open seats on the board, the last seven years.
“In my heart, I’d like to think I’m replacing Mark Richardson on that board,” Macklin said.
Macklin said he’s also approaching the wind development issues “with a completely open mind.”
“I’m a great believer in all sources of generation of energy, whether its wind, solar, coal, gas, nuclear or hydroelectric,” Macklin said. “I’m of the opinion a combination of all of those will make for the cheapest source of retail electric for consumers. Wind is a part of that, but it must be done right.”
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, wind moratorium proponent Amy Brown asked the commission what the process is supposed to be for changing zoning regulations.
The commission two weeks ago voted not to allow discussion of wind energy during the public comment period at the start of the commission’s weekly meetings, pending the planning commission making its recommendations on the NextEra project.
Brown noted that the County Commission late last year directed the Planning Commission to draft regulations to create a countywide overlay zone for regulating commercial wind, solar and possibly waste disposal and confined animal feeding operations.
That was after the planning board itself first suggested such a measure while drafting a new comprehensive plan.
The board subsequently voted 5-to-2 to recommend the county impose a six-month moratorium on wind development to draft regulations, but the county commission, after several hearings, failed to support that idea.
The planning board has not taken up the overlay issue since.
“What does it take to get a planning and zoning regulation revision so that we can have a meaningful conversation?” Brown asked. “Which can be meaningful for you do to your job to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.”
“We’ve been working over a year to get regulations in place,” Brown said. “You directed them to create an overlay zone, but it’s not been done, and now we’re not allowed to speak.”
Commissioner Ron Sellers, who joined the board last month, asked County Manager Gary Meagher to respond to Brown’s question about the process.
Meagher said he’d contact County Planner Mark Vonachen for a more definitive answer but believed the planning commission planned to take the issue up once the NextEra permits are resolved.
County Counselor Joe O’Sullivan said he was at a planning commission meeting when the question came up, and the planning board and staff felt the NextEra permits would “absorb the planning commission’s attention for the next several months and they’d take it up after the (NextEra) hearings.”
“Anticipating the NextEra application will be determined in April, I’d anticipate the discussion in a May-June timeframe,” O’Sullivan said.