The Reno County Commission has tentatively set a special meeting for May 21 to take up the NextEra Energy application for a conditional use permit for its proposed wind farm in southeastern Reno County.
The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Atrium Hotel and Conference Center, 1400 N. Lorraine.
No public comment is expected to be taken during the meeting, though county staff will present a report to the commission on whether any new information “that could not have been known” at the time of earlier Reno County Planning Commission public hearings has been presented for consideration.
The County Commission, meanwhile, continues to be flooded with emails and phone calls that, under the commission’s own rules set up earlier this year, the commissioner’s cannot consider when making their decision on the permit.
Development opponent Amy Brown asked the commission about the issue after reading in The News Tuesday morning about the commissioners receiving emails and phone calls in favor of the project after the Planning Commission had voted to recommend denying the permit.
“We need a point of clarification on how we should or should not proceed moving forward,” Brown said. “We’re asking whether the commission is accepting emails and phone calls at this point.”
“Anything coming to the board of county commissioners at this time, like anything else, is not considered part of the record,” said Chairman Bob Bush. “We can’t stop people from sending them. We don’t know what the source of that, the phone calls, is.”
County Administrator Gary Meagher said his office has received a number of calls, “four or five a day,” but many of them “dropped before it was answered.”
He said some 16 people have left messages.
“We’ve kept those and not shared them with the commission at all,” he said. “I’ve asked that they be written down and be kept at the administrative level.”
“It seems to be a robocall,” Meagher said. “I can’t tell you the content of the message. But none of that is to be considered by the board of commissioner in their decision making.”
Bush said he’s been putting the emails “in a folder, without reading them.”
“I’ve been sending a nice polite response saying I can’t speak to you outside of the planning and zoning process,” he said.
Bush told The News last week he’d received some 15 emails since the planning commission vote.
Commissioner Ron Hirst said, “all of us have received over 3,000 form letter emails.” He didn’t indicate, however, the period over which they were received, and whether most were before or during the public hearing period.
By the week prior to the start of the public hearing, about 400 form letters had been received at the county – of which only nine were from people living within the county.
Hirst reminded the public that, if they had some information they believed was new and not considered by the planning board, it should be sent to the county administrator or planner in the form of a letter. Staff will then decide whether the commission should receive it.
“We’re not considering any phone calls or emails,” Hirst said.
“We appreciate your response and will continue to operate in good faith,” Brown said. “We’ll continue to operate as defined by the commission.”
A deadline for submittals for a protest petition remains 5 p.m. May 7.
It should take staff only a couple of days to determine whether the petition is legally sufficient, which would allow the commission to take up the issue at its May 14 commission meeting, Planner Mark Vonachen reported.
The board, however, agreed to give staff “more leeway.”
Vonachen indicated he’ll likely report on the 14th, if determined by then, if the petition was sufficient.
Hirst also asked Vonachen for clarification on the petition, whether it involves non-participating land 1,000 feet from a turbine or from a property line.
Vonachen said it involves all properties NextEra indicated it has leases on, not just those with turbines, so it is 1,000 feet from the leased property line.
County Counselor Joe O’Sullivan advised Vonachen, at some point, whether on the 14th or 21st, would also report to the commission on submissions received since the planning commission hearing and whether staff determined any of it should be forwarded. The deadline for those submissions, under the county’s new policy, was 10 days after the hearing.
“There may be none, there may be a bunch, so if we could have flexibility that would help,” Vonachen said.
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