OSWEGO – A European energy company is looking to develop a wind farm in Labette County.
The county, and a Labette County commissioner, received letters on RWE letterhead dated Oct. 11 from Brandon Hernandez, wind development manager for E.ON and RWE, Essen, Germany-based companies that recently merged operations.
In the letter, Hernandez, who works in Austin, Texas, writes that RWE is in the early stages of evaluating “an opportunity for a wind energy project in Labette County.” Records show the company that the county, and commissioner Fred Vail and his family farm operation, own land in the area with “excellent wind resources.”
“As a property owner in this area we would like to offer you the opportunity to partner with us in capturing the wind resources on your property to create clean energy,” Hernandez wrote.
RWE has 23 wind farms and it tries to minimize its impact on the land and “maximize our contributions to the surrounding community,” Hernandez wrote. He writes that wind farms can be rewarding to landowners and the community and that the company offers generous lease payments to participants, tries to hire locally during construction and contributes to the local tax pool during operations. He writes that the leases could provide income to the landowners. He offers to discuss the opportunities with landowners and provided his email and phone number. An email sent to him was returned saying that he would be out of the office until Aug. 19.
Wind companies are getting federal help to build wind farms.
Labette County commissioners have discussed wind energy at a number of meetings, but this is the first official contact with a wind producer that they’ve discussed. There has been speculation from commissioners and others that developers have been contacting landowners in the county.
Commissioners have vowed that if such project did come to Labette County that they would be transparent with the public. They’ve discussed the topic and what to do in broad strokes about setbacks (the distance a property or structure is from a turbine), but they haven’t taken action on these topics.
“So it is happening. They’re starting to solicit landowners,” Commissioner Vail said Monday after sharing the letter that the county received as a landowner.
“I don’t have any idea how many people have got a letter like this,” Vail said.
Commissioner Lonie Addis said he thinks the project is focused on properties in the western part of the county because that would fall in line with turbines being built in Neosho County.
Addis said the county needs to act now.
“We need to have some more dialogue, all three of us,” Addis said, noting that all three commissioners have a different view of the project potential.
Vail asked County Counselor Brian Johnson to bring commissioners information on zoning and moratoriums for next week’s meeting so he could understand how those work and how they can be applied.
He wondered if a moratorium would lead to county zoning at some point. He does not want the county to be zoned.
“I just want to know what we’re up against there,” Vail said.
The commissioners said they would discuss the matter in a work session next week and review material with Johnson.
Addis said he would try to arrange a visit to the wind farm in Allen County as well. He said he, too, would like to hear from an expert on the impact wind farms have on wildlife. He said the worse thing commissioners could do is nothing.
“We’re going to have to do something soon,” Addis said.
Commissioners didn’t think a wind company would have any need to use county-owned property, though Johnson said they could use the land for generators, transfer stations or for power lines.
When asked later if he would respond to Hernandez’ letter, Vail was contemplative.
“We’re discussing it. We haven’t yet. We probably will. Why would you not want to understand what’s offered?”
Asked if he would want a wind turbine on his family partnership’s farm land, he said he would want more information before deciding that, although he said he would hate it if a neighboring property owner, who does not live on that parcel, would erect a turbine next to Vail’s homestead. He said he guesses he would live with it, or move.
“I wish they weren’t coming, but they’re coming,” Vail said.
Commissioner Doug Allen was not at Monday’s commission meeting.
Emergency services mapping
Commissioners also agreed Monday to use Verizon Connect and mapping software offered by ACTI for emergency services at a cost of $2,800. The bill will be split between the sheriff’s department, 911 and dispatch funds. After that, the annual cost for the products is $1,800.
The products will allow the sheriff to monitor vehicles for maintenance issues and the mapping software will help improve response times and allow dispatchers to give better directions to responders. The maps are based on the county’s 911 maps, which commissioners heard are more accurate than Google Maps because of local 911 addressing that’s periodically updated. Deputies on duty also would show up on the map so that dispatchers could coordinate responses quicker. Now, officers sometimes have a radio conversation about their locations before deciding who is closer to a call. With the new map, dispatchers would know where the officers were and could dispatch the closest units.
The sheriff’s department and Chetopa police will be on the system and 911 Director Brandy Grassl and Sheriff Darren Eichinger hoped that Parsons police would join and Labette Health Ambulance Service. Fire departments could be added in the future, too.
Grassl said recently a deputy didn’t radio dispatchers to let them know he was done with a call. Dispatchers check on deputies periodically when they are on a call and this deputy didn’t respond. So other deputies were called to respond to that deputy’s last location, a situation that may have been avoided with the mapping software. The deputy was fine.
County Counselor Johnson said that the records maintained by the system would be subject to the Kansas Open Records Act and could be requested by the public. Eichinger said he understood that.
“I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages to it,” Eichinger said.
In other matters, the commission:
— Agreed to pay the $21,830.89 left on the contract with the Central Federal Lands Highway Division, which oversaw the grant and improvements to Big Hill Lake road, which is called 19000 Road. The project cost $1.77 million, of which the county paid or paid in-kind $355,591.59. The road was chipped and sealed again this year, which is routine for recently resurfaced roads, commissioners said.
— Heard that the county road crew applied $14,727.37 in material to a road improvement project at Great Plains Industrial Park.
— Agreed to allow the city of Chetopa to use a county mower and pay a county employee to mow around three lagoons in Chetopa. Under these agreements, cities generally hire and pay the county worker as a city employee and pay for worker’s compensation insurance for him or her. This way the person most familiar with the equipment will be operating it.
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