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Planners to consider wind farm regs

Discussion will begin in earnest next week on possible wind farm regulations for the area surrounding Parsons.

The Parsons Planning Commission will meet Tuesday to begin consideration of a zoning amendment for wind energy conversion systems in the 3-mile area.

After a recommendation from City Commissioner Tom Shaw to develop wind turbine regulations, the planners first took up the issue in a July 23 meeting. They decided the full planning commission, instead of a subcommittee, should look into the issue.

Labette County has no zoning regulations, and county commissioners have indicated they have no intentions to approve zoning laws. The city of Parsons, however, has zoning jurisdiction over the outlying area surrounding the city, very roughly a 3-mile radius except in Neosho County, the Great Plains Industrial Park and other areas.

Laura Moore, community development director for the city, gave the planners a copy of Barton County’s zoning regulations pertaining to wind farms for the July meeting. She included with their agenda for Tuesday’s meeting Pratt County’s commercial wind energy project criteria for a special use application under its zoning regulations.

Pratt County’s zoning regulations relating to wind farms are detailed, spanning 13 pages of requirements before the county will issue a special use permit for turbines. The document covers land use, electromagnetic interference, soil erosion, cultural heritage, wildlife habitat, public health and safety, bird migration, noise, visual impact and several other issues.

Pratt’s regulations require a setback of 1.1 times the total height of the turbine from a public road right of way and from an accessory structure, a setback of 500 feet from lot lines of any property not included in the special use and a setback of 2,500 feet from an active residential building. The setbacks regarding private property can be waived if there is written permission from property owners.

Barton County’s wind farm regulations are less stringent than Pratt’s and center primarily around protecting its wetlands. They create a perimeter around the wetlands where no turbines can be built. Other areas of the county require a conditional use permit.

Moore recommends that the planners consider turbine regulations that require a special use permit instead of a conditional use permit. A special use permit requires a recommendation from the planning commission and the city commission’s approval, while a conditional use permit only requires approval from the planners.

City Manager Debbie Lamb said recently that wind farm regulations could be added quickly and easily to the city’s existing zoning codes in the 3-mile area.

Shaw told the planners in July that the city should act soon to approve the regulations because a wind energy company could be out there now signing land leases or at least discussing options with property owners.

Planner Ron Holsteen said with Neosho Ridge Wind set for construction in southwest Neosho County soon, it probably wouldn’t be difficult for Apex Clean Energy to expand on that project with windmills in Labette County.

“It raises a lot of questions. There’s a lot to be discussed here,” Holsteen said.

The planners will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the commission room of the Parsons Municipal Building. The meeting is open to the public. In July one person, along with Shaw, attended to express her concerns about turbines being built close to the city.