ERIE – After a distraction by other issues – like one of the worst floods in Neosho County history – commissioners got back to the Neosho Ridge Wind project controversy at Thursday evening’s meeting.
Commissioners heard from participating and non-participating landowners – in favor of and opposed to the electrical generation project – which involves plans by Apex Clean Energy to build 139 windmills in southwest Neosho County.
“Think of the money that’s going to be dumped in the county during construction,” supporter Roy Vyhlidal told commissioners. He gave them copies of an article about a project near Fort Hays.
Denise Houghton read a letter from former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who supported significant setbacks from the property lines of non-participants, including their homes, to lessen the possibility of harm or damage. Houghton said Oklahoma has had to deal with problems with wind generator projects.
Opponent LeRoy Burk gave commissioners written information about an appraisal study on the impact of windmill projects on property values, including
2012 information from New York and setback distances of less than a mile to 10 miles.
Commissioner David Orr said he had been criticized for putting the study on a Facebook page.
Opponent John Altman gave written information on a generator collapse near Hunter, Okla., in wind gusts of less than 40 miles per hour.
Supporter Jay O’Brien said the proposal is a $500 million project.
“Get it and let’s go,” he said.
Another in the audience agreed.
“I bought the land. I paid for it,” supporter Charlie Wheeler said. He said if opponents can block the project, “who’s going to stop you from raising corn?
“I have the right to my land,” he continued. “If they don’t like it, turn their head.”
Lori Whitworth, a spokesperson for the group of “concerned citizens,” followed Wheeler with questions from opponents.
“Even he ended with ‘if it doesn’t harm someone else’s property,’” she said. Some of the concerns Whitworth shared include shadow flicker, noise, the distance from which the windmills would be visible, and the number of non-participant homes in the project area. She said people have asked for maps of the area impacts.
“What we’ve been advocating for months is responsible setbacks,” she said.
Vern Heilman and his wife Mary recommended approval of the project, with Vern saying money brought to the county would turn over seven times.
“That is too much of a stimulant to pass up,” he said.
Bryan Coover said he wants a blade failure analysis, noting that 3,800 turbines across the world in 2018 threw blade parts, just over a half percent.
He also wants information on a study of ice thrown by windmills.
“It’s pretty important to Apex that we don’t have information,” he said, adding his supposition that Apex has to have already ordered the windmill units. Orr showed Coover a sound meter Orr said showed the noise level at a grain elevator in Galesburg.
Coover said a 50 decibel noise level of a symphony is different from the same decibels of a chainsaw. He said windmills vary by 15 decibels per turn, and encouraged the county to hire a licensed engineer.
When Orr, as chairman, attempted to end the public comment, Dustie Elsworth objected that it had not been the full 30 minutes promised.
Then Tia Farley, a Butler County resident, discussed her experience living about a mile from a wind project. She said deer, hawks, owls and other wildlife are not adversely affected.
“It’s not a noise issue,” Farley said.
Elsworth said the commission has a lot of information to go over on the issue.
He said he has several farms in the project footprint and his house would be a half-mile from the closest windmill.
But he said setbacks are a major concern, noting that setbacks are the same for participating and non-participating landowners, and he feels there should be an additional distance equal to the height of the windmill for non-participants.
“We need to really take time and think through this,” Elsworth said. “We just want it under simple protection.”
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