More than 200 protest petitions were filed by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline in opposition to NextEra Energy’s proposed wind farm in southeast Reno County, incliuding a 2-inch thick stack submitted last Friday.
Officials in the Reno County Clerk’s office, where the petition was filed, estimated the initial filing included some 350 pages. That is because each petition required a legal description of the property, as well as signatures of all owners of the individual parcel, so many of the petitions were multiple pages.
More petitions trickled in individually Monday and Tuesday, and then another half-inch stack was submitted as a packet Tuesday afternoon, said County Clerk Donna Patton.
The importance of the petition is that – if it is verified as legally sufficient – it would require a unanimous vote of the Reno County Commission to approve the NextEra permit, rather than a simple majority.
The Reno County Planning Commission voted 4-3 on April 23 to recommend the county commission deny the NextEra application on grounds that it didn’t benefit the health and welfare of county residents.
The county commission has tentatively scheduled a public meeting for 6:30 p.m. May 21 at the Atrium Hotel and Conference Center to take up the application.
The protest petitions must be individually filed by property owners who are within 1,000 feet of a parcel that has a lease with NextEra.
NextEra’s CUP application included a list of 239 parcels within 1,000 feet of a leased property the company was legally required to notify of its application.
The stack submitted Friday included 237 individual petitions, said Amy Brown, one of the leaders of the effort to stop the project.
The trick, however, is that the law sets out that the petitions represent at least 20 percent of the total land, except roads and rights-of-way, located within the notification area – not 20 percent of property owners.
And then, only land physically within 1,000 feet of a leased property boundary counts toward the 20 percent, planning consultant Russ Ewy, of Wichita, previously said – not the entire parcel owned by an opponent.
It is unclear how much land that might involve.
The NextEra application indicated the project footprint encompassed just under 45,685 acres. Of that, just under 8,000 acres, or less than 18 percent, are leased parcels.
Leased parcels include those 53 designated as potential turbine sites within the zoned area of the county or other land that is leased by the Florida corporation for different purposes within that footprint, such as a substation or part of a transmission line route.
Land that is within the proposed wind farm footprint but is not within 1,000 feet of a leased property boundary does not qualify to protest, said Reno County Planner Mark Vonachen.
Property that is in the unzoned portions of the county if within 1,000 feet of a zoned parcel, however, Vonachen said, can be counted.
“If you live outside the (1,000 foot) notification area, you are not eligible to file a petition,” Vonachen said. “People living in Hutchinson or Pretty Prairie or Buhler, or even a mile away cannot file one. It gets complicated in that there are zoned and unzoned areas. A lot of people are against it, but if you didn’t receive notice, you could file a petition, but it won’t be valid.”
Every petition has to identify the specific parcel which gives rise to the protest. Typographical or simple errors in a petition won’t disqualify the petition, Vonachen said, as long as officials can determine its location and ownership.
Vonachen expected it to take less than a week to verify the petitions and determine if it was successful.
County Administrator Gary Meagher advised the county commission during a brief weekly meeting Tuesday morning that he expected to give them an update on the petitions next week.