A group of rural Buchanan County residents gathered Tuesday night to better establish an ongoing campaign that opposes the location of wind turbines near St. Joseph.
Friends of Buchanan County met at Bessie Ellison Elementary School east of St. Joseph, attracting a crowd of about 200 residents interested in learning more about efforts to persuade county officials to refrain from a potential project to build a wind facility.
NextEra, a Florida-based energy firm, has expressed interest in the chances of constructing a wind project somewhere in the county, and met with county officials in January. Many residents on the east and northeast sides of the county believe their areas are being viewed for such development. County officials have been working toward fashioning an ordinance that would regulate wind farms, but that document remains incomplete. Black & Veatch of Kansas City is consulting with the county in preparing a draft ordinance.
Deb Birr, one of the originators of the Friends, said the group has a goal of collecting 1,000 signatures for a petition that asks the Buchanan County Commission to enact a setback of wind turbines of at least 1 mile from the property lines of all nonparticipating landowners, except for nonparticipating landowners who waive the right in writing. Slightly more than 200 signatures have been secured.
Another Friends founder, Anita Simon, explained the petition’s importance.
“We believe that’s a common-sense recommendation, based on the things we think are important,” she said. “As in our property rights, our health and welfare, and even our economic development.”
Barry Birr, another Friends member, said organizing the group was based on an invitation from a member of the Buchanan County Planning and Zoning Commission. That commission can only recommend approval of an ordinance, which must be ultimately approved by the County Commission.
“We don’t think this is right for Buchanan County,” he said. “Our position is that wind energy may be appropriate for some areas, especially for sparsely populated areas.”
The county’s dense population is a major mitigating factor against introducing wind turbines, according to Barry Birr.
“I think the commission should take a real hard look, a good close look, at this,” he added.
Besides signing the petition, residents also had the opportunity to purchase T-shirts for the campaign and procure yard signs. The materials were bought out of pocket by the founding members.
Barry Birr said the concern over the size of the setbacks pertains to a sense that rural residents could lose a say-so over what they can do on their property.
Lynn Anderson also spoke and wondered over the intricacies that may become part of a future decommissioning of the turbines.
“They (officials) don’t know what’s going to happen 50 years from now,” he said. “I don’t know if wind turbines would add to tourism.”
Anderson said he does not oppose research into other forms of energy to produce electricity, including solar.
The residents also learned how to navigate the organization’s new website, friendsofbuchanancounty.com.
No members of the County Commission attended the session. News-Press NOW reached out to Presiding Commissioner Lee Sawyer, who said he was aware of the group’s gathering.
Sawyer said a tour of a NextEra facility in DeKalb County has yet to be organized.
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