ERIE – Possibly growing weary of weekly Thursday night meetings and months of discussion, supporters have started calling for decisions to be made soon on the proposed Neosho Ridge wind energy project.
At least one concerned southern Neosho County resident, however, told Neosho County commissioners they still haven’t received enough information from Apex Clean Energy to make any decisions on the project.
“There’s so much information that you’ve asked for, but you’re not getting it, and they’re not even apologizing for not getting it,” Bryan Coover said.
Coover’s comments came during the commission’s regular meeting, which followed a special session earlier in the day in which the commissioners spoke with Wichita attorney Patricia Blankenship. It was the second consecutive week the commission consulted with Blankenship about setbacks and other requirements that could be included in agreements with Apex for the Neosho Ridge project. The commission met with Blankenship in closed session for an attorney-client privileged discussion for a total of three hours and 15 minutes.
During the regular meeting, Coover said the county needs engineering reports for the project so that an outside expert can read and interpret them before the commission can make important decisions.
That information should include sound maps, Coover said. He said he doubts Apex’s comparison of the sound of one of the 600-foot turbines to the sound of a refrigerator.
“Nobody really believes a wind turbine really makes the same noise as a refrigerator,” Coover said. “I want to be able to sleep in my house at night and not have to move. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
Coover also pointed out a few other wind energy projects in which the turbines had to be rebuilt after about 10 years. Apex’s sales pitch includes payments to the county based on a 25-year lifespan, but Coover said the gear boxes on turbines only last 10 years at the most. Apex wouldn’t reinvest in the proposed 139 turbines at Neosho Ridge after their short lifespan if no production tax credit is available, and if the turbines have no worth because they can’t produce, they would have no valuation for the tax roll. Coover said the commission needs to check into the project’s projected cash flow to ensure it will be making money in the long term.
Coover also said the commission needs turbine blade failure data and safety protocols for the turbines.
“I’m definitely concerned about infrasound,” Commissioner Paul Westhoff told Coover.
Infrasound refers to sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility. It has been mentioned as a health concern during the wind farm discussion.
Concerning some of the requested information, Commissioner David Orr said the process hasn’t progressed to the point yet to when that data is needed because so many other things need to come first. Coover said he would check back in a couple of weeks to see if any of the information had been offered by Apex.
Lori Whitworth wanted to know why talk recently has centered around road-use agreements to the exclusion of two other agreements Apex had previously mentioned – a voluntary contribution agreement and a decommissioning agreement. The commissioners assured her all three agreements are still on the table to be considered.
“We wouldn’t dare sign just one,” Orr said.
Commission Chairman David Bideau said no one has mentioned having only one agreement to him, and Orr said the commission has been focusing on all three.
Thursday’s regular meeting also revealed County Clerk Randall Neely’s displeasure about his name and contact information being included in a full-page ad in Tuesday’s editions of the Parsons Sun and The Chanute Tribune promoting the wind energy project.
Neely’s name, email and office number were listed in the ad just below a message urging residents to call their county commissioners to tell them to support the wind farm. Neely complained about the ad and Apex ran another on Thursday with his contact information but without his name.
Neely and some of the people concerned about or opposed to the wind farm said inclusion of his name makes it seem as if he favors the project, and Neely said someone even asked him how much he paid for the ad.
Whitworth said if people want to contact commissioners or Apex about the project, they should call them directly instead of using the county clerk’s office as an answering service. The clerk’s office is short-staffed and shouldn’t have to talk about the wind project on the taxpayers’ dime, she said.
“I agree with that. I was troubled by the ad,” Bideau said.
Bideau also said use of Neely’s name made it seem as if he supported Neosho Ridge.
During a break in the meeting, Neely said the use of his name does not mean he favors the Neosho Ridge project as proposed without adequate setbacks from nonparticipants’ homes.
The distance of setbacks for nonparticipating homes has been a key issue in debate over the wind farm. Apex has proposed setbacks of 1,025 feet from nonparticipating property lines and 1,640 feet from nonparticipating homes.
While the commissioners have spent several hours with the Wichita attorney discussing the needed agreements for the project, they haven’t mentioned when some decisions may be made.
A few Neosho Ridge supporters on Thursday said they hope the commission votes on the project soon.
Leaseholder Nancy Kubler called for the commission to move through the process quickly.
“I mean, honestly, this is going to go on and on and on,” Toni Carter said.
Carter was featured in an Apex ad supporting the project.
Carter said it’s time to cut the discussion and urged the commissioners to vote in favor of the project to show that the county is a good steward of the land and finances.
Ron Vhylidal, a landowner quoted in an Apex ad, said discussion has gone on a long time, to the point of aggravation. He asked commissioners if a vote would come in the near future, but they didn’t respond.
John Cramer said he doesn’t have enough land to lease for a turbine, but if he could he would. Cramer said the wind farm would bring a lot of money to the county that could benefit it in a great way. He asked the commission to make a decision soon.
“I don’t want to see anyone overreact and hurt someone else, and I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to come to,” Cramer said.
Like Cramer, others on both sides of the issue spoke about the divisiveness the debate has brought to the county.
Dale Jeffery said it’s Apex’s fault that neighbors have been divided. He also said Bideau and Orr should listen to Westhoff, who represents the district in the wind farm footprint. If he wants 2,000-foot setbacks for his constituents, Jeffery said, the other two should agree to it.
“They divide us up. Divide and conquer is what I feel happened,” Doug Reed said.
Reed also said his daughter-in-law suffers from migraines, recently requiring hospitalization. Based on his research, he firmly believes the air pressure change caused by turbines can bring on migraines.
“If that’s the case, you just took away all the holidays we have at my house,” Reed said.
Bryan Schultz said while some have said there are health and injury risks involved with wind farms, there is risk involved in everyday life. He also said the revenue would benefit the county. Schultz compared the turbines as a source of revenue for farms to raising livestock. He questioned if the county was going to start requiring setbacks for farms. He also said the wind energy project is similar to farmers leasing their land for gas wells, but the county doesn’t require road-use agreements for the gas companies.
“We’re trying to put emotions in front of business,” Schultz said. “It’s got to be a business decision when it comes down to it because it is a business.”
For Gina Burnett, it’s partly a question of property rights, but not just for those who plan to lease their land for turbine placement. Proximity to a turbine could restrict the use of leaseholders’ neighbors as well.
“I am for property rights, but I am for property rights of everyone – leaseholders as well as nonparticipating people,” Burnett said. “I want everybody that is in the footprint to be protected in their own rights for their land.”
Burnett also derided a survey Orr has been distributing. The questions involved seem to be skewed in favor of the project, and Burnett said there are so many different ways the answers can be interpreted. She filled out a survey and ensured Orr that he couldn’t use her answers as a vote in support of the project.
Kim Norris said only a small group of landowners will benefit from the project. Apex touts the number of jobs that will be created, but Neosho County doesn’t have workers trained to work on the turbines, so they will come from other areas. She said only 10 permanent jobs were created at a wind farm in Allen County.
“That doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me at all,” Norris said.
In other business Thursday the commissioners:
— Agreed to extend an invitation to all county employees to attend a lunch on May 21 during a county association meeting in Erie.
— Agreed to seek bids for chip-and-seal oil with bids to be opened at 7 p.m. May 9.
— Met in executive session for 25 minutes with Christy Hofer, human resources director, Mike Brown, road and bridge director, and Seth Jones, county counselor, to discuss nonelected personal concerning the job duties and qualifications of a job candidate.
— Heard from Bob McElroy, county appraiser, that personal property valuations would be sent Friday. Appeal hearings can be scheduled until May 15. McElroy also said his office would send agriculture and business questionnaires on May 10.
— Approved a cereal malt beverage license for the American Legion for the 2019 Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunion.
— Approved reimbursement to the health department fund from the general fund for training in St. Louis that Teresa Starr received. They also agreed to approve her and another employee attending a substance use disorder conference June 11-13. Training at the conference is required by a Kansas Department of Health and Environment immunization grant.