From their opening comments during a special commission meeting Thursday, it was clear how individual members of the Reno County Commission were going to vote on the application by NextEra energy for a wind farm permit.
It took more than 3 1/2 hours, however, to get to that moment.
Commissioner Ron Hirst was the critical vote, leading to a defeat of the conditional use permit sought by the Florida developer.
That’s because enough landowners within 1,000 feet of the land under lease by NextEra for the 200 MW project filed a successful protest petition, forcing a unanimous vote of the commission to reach a positive outcome for the developer.
The corporation now has to decide whether to appeal the decision to a district court.
While it split with a 2-1 vote Thursday night, the decision won’t be official until the commission adopts a resolution next week formalizing the vote.
It appeared as the meeting approached 10 p.m. after Commissioner Ron Sellers made a motion to add a condition that NextEra guarantee market value for any home with 2,500 feet of a turbine if sold within five years, there might be agreement.
Commission Ron Hirst countered with a guarantee for homes with 2.5 miles of a turbine. Sellers agreed to a compromise of 1.5 miles.
Hirst then proposed, however, a condition that no turbines be located within 1.5 miles of any school, church or community center. Sellers wouldn’t agree, so Hirst voted no on the original motion.
About 150 people turned out for the meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. at the Fox Theatre.
As during more than 20 hours of public hearings before the Reno County Planning Commission – which set up Thursday’s decision with its negative recommendation on the conditional use permit by a 4-to-3 vote – the majority of the audience were residents opposed to the wind farm.
Business and Chamber of Commerce representatives made a more substantial appearance than at previous hearings, taking up a portion of the front rows near NextEra officials, and scattered throughout the auditorium.
Many wore stickers supplied by the chamber, stating, “I (heart) Wind.”
Hirst focused on potential negative impacts from the acres of massive turbines that would dot the southeast quadrant of Reno County voiced by numerous residents during the previous hearings.
Commissioner Ron Sellers and Commission Chairman Bob Bush focused on the projected economic benefits of the development and the message sent to the wind industry by Reno County rejecting the development.
“Community and a sense of place are brought up many times in the Comprehensive Plan,” Hirst stated. “It doesn’t define place nor community, but it’s in there a lot. Different entities in the county have done a great deal to bring about community and a sense of place….This will change the identity of the community. People will lose a sense of place. It will split the place and lose the community.”
“Wealth is measured in many ways,” Hirst said. “We’ve heard about dollars for farmers from leases, but there’s another definition of wealth. It’s the sum total of assets, natural and cultural, our identity as a society.”
Bush spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting reviewing the history of the application process and how the county arrived at Thursday meeting.
Planning Consultant Russ Ewy then spent a half hour walking through nearly a dozen zoning factors considered for approval or denial of the application.
The board then walked through each of those factors, voicing whether they believed the development was supported by or in opposition to the element.
Sellers made his motion at 9:50, adding three conditions to the permit. After discussion, the final vote came at 10:03.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding