OSWEGO – Labette County commissioners on Friday discussed an advisory board that will make recommendations on issues related to wind farm development in the county.
Some citizens have contacted commissioners individually expressing interest in serving and commissioners said they will discuss naming the board as soon as possible, but they want to agree on the committee’s membership. Commission Chairman Doug Allen wants to move quickly to name the board and organize it so that it can begin meeting and gathering information related to limited zoning regulations, setbacks and other issues related to wind farm development in the county.
The commission established a moratorium for a year on wind farm construction while the advisory committee and the commission gather information. The commission approved a modified resolution on Friday because the first resolution had an incorrect closing date. The 2-1 vote Friday included a moratorium closing date of Nov. 13, 2020. Commissioner Fred Vail voted no again.
Commissioners said the committee will be subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act and the Kansas Open Records Act. County Counselor Brian Johnson said he will provide an overview on those laws to the committee.
“We’ve always said we’re going to be very transparent, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t be, too,” Allen said.
Commissioners want Public Works Director Sandy Krider to be an ex-officio member of the committee for her knowledge of bridges and roads. Rob Riggin, wildlife manager for the Grand Osage Wildlife Area at Great Plains Industrial Park, may also be an ex-officio member. Vail said the committee likely will use a number of people as resources.
Charlie Morse is the county’s emergency management director and wears a number of other hats, including zoning administrator for Great Plains and county sanitation officer. He will serve the committee or serve on the committee.
Commissioners discussed appointing members from the western part of the county, the likely area where the wind farm would be established.
Allen said the RWE official who was in the county last week discussed possibly aligning the Labette County wind farm with the one in Neosho County. RWE is the German utility company that’s expressed interest in establishing a wind farm in Labette County. The official told Allen the turbines may start west of Parsons and angle down to near Mound Valley and then to Edna. The wind currents are better in the western half of the county.
“Apparently they’re not looking at the eastern end of the county because the wind currents aren’t as strong over there,” Allen said.
Commissioner Lonie Addis was concerned about having someone on the advisory board who may profit from hosting a wind turbine on his or her property. The non-disclosure agreements leaseholders sign may prohibit potential board members from saying if they leased land to the company. Addis doesn’t want committee members to be paid by the wind farm for their support or vote in their deliberations.
“You have to differentiate between self-interest and integrity,” Addis said.
Not knowing the wind farm footprint makes it difficult to know what members would be in the footprint, Vail and Allen said. RWE says the development is still two to three years away.
Allen said he wanted a balanced board that would include members supportive of wind development. He said the RWE official told him the company will use a pooling system similar to what oil and gas producers use when setting up wells. Even if the turbine is on your neighbor’s land and not yours, you may benefit financially. Allen still thought the committee needed representation from people who would live in the footprint, or potential footprint area.
Vail agreed, saying he thought the committee needed people with “skin in the game.”
Addis thought advisory board members should be able to say they won’t have turbines on their property and nor will they profit from the wind farm.
“I don’t think you get a balanced board like that,” Allen said. He said you can’t assume that anyone in the footprint is selling their vote. He asked Johnson to chime in.
Johnson said if a committee member had signed a lease with the developer that could be a conflict of interest. He didn’t know if the non-disclosure agreements would allow them to say anything on the subject. But he agreed that regardless all committee members would have biases. He didn’t know how to ferret out bias beforehand.
“I think the better idea would be for this board to try to find people who have been in the community a long time, who you respect to make good decisions and go with that group to the best of your ability,” Johnson said.
Allen pointed out that the advisory committee would only make recommendations. The commission would vote on the recommendations. Vail agreed.
After going back and forth more, Allen suggested that commissioners think about committee membership and come back to the topic at the next meeting.
“We do the voting. I think that’s a difference. Maybe it’s a difference without a distinction, or a distinction without a difference,” Allen said.
Vail said he would hope the commission is smart enough to sort out all the issues before naming the committee.
“But I think initially we get intelligent, thoughtful people that will put aside personal considerations and do what they think is best for the county at large,” Allen said.
Vail said that wind turbines are likely coming to Labette County. The commission needs to partner with the developer to make the wind farm work for all concerned.
Allen said he agreed to a certain point. But he’s been through enough negotiations that he knows you need leverage at the table or you get run over. That’s what happened in Neosho County, he said.
Great Plains prospects
Great Plains Industrial Park soon may have several new tenants, commissioners heard Friday.
Brad Reams, director of Great Plains, and Becky Dantic, project manager, asked commissioners if they would support a future issue of industrial revenue bonds.
Reams said a prospect may require an IRB issue to fund its development at the park east of Parsons. The Great Plains Development Authority would issue the industrial revenue bonds and there would be no financial risk to the county. The commission would need to endorse the IRB issue with a resolution at a future meeting, he said.
Reams said he would come back on Nov. 18 to discuss it again or perhaps seek a resolution from the commission at that time to support the IRB issue.
He said he’s visited with the Kansas Department of Transportation about grants that could help upgrade the rail system in the park as well.
Reams said within the next eight weeks he should have three announcements of prospects for Great Plains.
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