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County approves moratorium ‘to slow the process down’

ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners approved a moratorium on wind energy Thursday evening, but tussled about social media. The moratorium and some portions of the meeting took place in front of about two dozen spectators.

The resolution passed unanimously and allows construction of the current Neosho Ridge Wind electric generation project, but blocks anything beyond its 139 windmills to generate 300 megawatts.

Commission Chair Gail Klaassen introduced the resolution last week, and faced questions Thursday from Commissioner Paul Westhoff.

“As time goes on, a moratorium will be a good idea for the county,” Klaassen said.

Westhoff said the county needs to see the impact of the current project on the county and taxpayers. He asked why Klaassen’s resolution did not include a provision to extend it. County Counselor Seth Jones said that would be superfluous.

“You can always extend it,” Jones said.

“And we can shorten it,” Klaassen said. “It can be repealed.”

Westhoff said it would be better to have time to “soak it in.”

Apex Clean Energy is the developer of the Neosho Ridge project, located in the southwest portion of the county around Thayer and Galesburg. Another developer has leased property in the northeast part of the county, and Westhoff said a Bourbon County commissioner said that county could have 12 to 13 windmills.

Klaassen also said Apex has leased additional land east of its current project. She said her district will have two of the windmills within its borders.

“I think we need to slow the process down,” she said.

Jones said any expansion would be outside the scope of the contracts the county commission has signed with Apex.

Commissioner David Orr said he supported the moratorium, and asked Apex representatives if it would hurt the current project.

“Okay. Wow. We’re making progress,” Klaassen said after the vote. “I’m very comfortable with this.”

On Friday, Apex Senior Development Manager Jade Scheele said the company was expecting a moratorium and that it had no plans to use the land leased east of the Neosho Ridge project footprint.

“There is land that is leased, but there is no intention to use that land for any wind project,” Scheele said. “Those leases will eventually be terminated.”

County records show the land in the northeast part of the county has been leased by NextEra Energy doing business as Boulevard Associates, LLC.

Public comments

During public comments later, adjacent property owner LeRoy Burk, rural Thayer, who opposes the project, urged the commission to apply the recent $1.5 million payment from Apex to lower the 2020 mill levy.

Apex made a one-time, up-front payment to the county earmarked for the road and bridge department, sheriff and other areas related to the construction. After completion, it will make annual payments in lieu of property taxes that are exempted for 10 years.

Burk described a payment offered to the city of Galesburg as a bribe in exchange for support. He also said he would entertain offers for his property, although he turned down a recent bid.

Rural Erie resident Shirley Estrada said she was pleased with information on the county’s website about the project’s progress, but disliked that it linked to a Neosho Ridge website instead of to a page on the county’s website. She said she had computer issues when she went to the Neosho Ridge website.

Social media

Discussion between Westhoff and Orr was more heated over the issue of social media.

Westhoff’s complaint was with postings Orr has made on Facebook, although he did not go into detail about the posts during open discussion. At previous meetings, the commission has discussed the subject of videotaping meetings and posting them on Facebook or to a county-created site.

Orr said his site indicates it is his name. He said he maintains one Facebook page for personal topics and another for county-related business.

“Anything I put on there, good or bad, is all on me,” Orr said.

Westhoff said Orr had deleted posts to his page. Orr denied it, but said he has deleted comments that were rude.

“Bull butter,” Westhoff said. “That is a boldface frickin’ lie.”

“Everyone should just stay off Facebook,” Klaassen said.

Westhoff said he does not use Facebook.

Other county business

Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown reported to commissioners about an Aug. 25 traffic accident that did significant damage to a bridge north of 130th Road on York Road. He also reported that a conveyor belt on a rock crusher had failed.

The Road and Bridge Department received criticism from St. Paul-area resident and former county employee Roy Paisley, who urged the commissioners to have a back-up conveyer belt.

Paisley compared current staffing and equipment to his time with the county. He said the department now has 31 employees and seven road graders when it once had 50 employees and eight grader districts, with a spare grader capable of grading the whole district twice in a month.

“Our roads are unsafe,” Paisley said. “You’re looking for a lawsuit in this county.”

He said the areas near the windfarm has gotten attention at the expense of other areas.

“I’m hoping that you guys are smarter than what we had,” Paisley told commissioners. “We need to do something to give that man (Brown) some help.”

Also on the agenda, the commission also approved a training request from Health Department Coordinator Teresa Starr, and a representative of Advantage Computers discussed his company’s background and services to the county.

Klaassen discussed the resignation of County Clerk Randal Neely. She said the Republican Party would have a meeting within two weeks at the county courthouse, and resumes for Neely’s position need to be received by Oct. 1.