OSWEGO – Labette County commissioners haven’t reached consensus on how to form a board that will review wind farm issues and report to them with recommendations.
The commissioners still are far apart on board membership. After a 30-minute discussion Monday, commissioners agreed to each write outlines or proposals on how the board will be formed, operate and report. These will be discussed at the Nov. 27 commission meeting.
Commission Chairman Doug Allen first suggested that the board have five members. The board would review information related to wind farm development and hear from people with knowledge of developments to make recommendations to the commission on zoning and setbacks (the distance between the turbines and property lines or homes). Each commissioner would appoint one member and the remaining membership would be Sandy Krider, Public Works director, and Charlie Morse, emergency management director and zoning supervisor. The board would use resources from the community and other areas of the state for expertise on wind development and its impact on the public and wildlife.
Commissioners recently enacted a moratorium on wind farm construction for a year while they study the issue. RWE, a German utility company, is talking with Labette County landowners and exploring wind development in the western half of the county.
Commissioner Lonie Addis said he is adamant that no one on the board should lease land to wind developers. He thinks these landowners would have a conflict and shouldn’t vote on anything related to wind development.
Other commissioners quickly pointed out that the board would be advisory in nature and would not vote. The board would make recommendations and the commission would vote on setbacks and zoning, if those issues advance.
Allen said County Counselor Brian Johnson would staff advisory board meetings and instruct board members on conflicts. If a member had a financial conflict, he or she would have to disclose that. Allen is concerned that Addis’ restrictions would tip the board’s balance.
“Your position is going to make us not have an objective board,” Allen said.
“This is a recommendation board. They’re not going to make the rules. The commission’s going to make the rules. And I think we ought to get both sides of the story and not stack it for people that are not going to benefit from it,” Allen said.
Allen was concerned that if commissioners whittled away all citizens who may have a conflict on the issue that they would have a pool of four people from which to form the board. He didn’t think the commission should exclude those who may benefit financially from wind development.
Addis said the other two commissioners could vote for their board and he would vote no until the issue is done.
Allen asked Addis for an alternative. Addis said he doesn’t have a problem with wind farm proponents serving on the board, as long as they don’t lease land to the company.
Commissioner Fred Vail asked Allen why he thought county employees should be on the board. Allen said because Krider knows the impacts on roads and bridges and Morse, who also oversees sanitation issues, has proven himself a good facilitator and oversees zoning at Great Plains. But Allen said this is just his suggestion for the board. Vail wasn’t sure he wanted county employees on the board.
Addis said the one thing he’s heard from other commissioners in Kansas and engineers is that wind farm construction is hard on roads because of the heavy trucks and trailers and cranes. The deterioration continues after construction. Labette County has more bridges than many counties in Kansas, especially those in western Kansas that have had wind farms for a number of years, he said. The county’s infrastructure makes Krider’s membership on the board important.
Vail thought that county employees would be a great resource to the board and he would consider having them as ex-officio members, though he didn’t know how that would work on an advisory board.
Allen mentioned county zoning related to wind development and said the advisory board could end up making a recommendation for limited zoning.
Vail does not support county zoning. Allen said when he and Vail leave the commission in 2021 the new board could implement zoning its second day.
“That don’t mean that I have to endorse it while I’m on the commission,” Vail said.
Allen said he understood Vail’s concern.
“What we’re trying to do is get data … so that we can make a decision” based on input from people who may benefit and those who don’t want it, Allen said. If the board gets input from all sides the result will be more fair.
Allen then made his suggestion about each commissioner preparing a report on how to constitute the board and how the board would operate, such as monthly meetings, monthly reports to the commission, etc. These reports would be discussed on Nov. 27.
Allen said wind farms create tremendous revenue and landowners only get a crumb of that, as do counties. If the advisory board finds out the value of the development, perhaps the county would be able to help leasing landowners make their best deal and still balance that with the concerns of non-participants.
“Let’s be a little more sophisticated than, ‘Oh, well, we’re just not going to do that.’ It’s coming. We know it’s coming. Let’s not be blindsided like Neosho County was. It caused a lot of distress up there,” Allen said.
Commissioners Vail and Addis thought Allen’s suggestion would be a good start to the discussion.
Vail said the commission is pretty disjointed now.
“Really it’s our obligation to the county to come up with recommendations,” Vail said, and he said he’s open to negotiate in good faith. “And I think that’s our obligation.”
In other matters, commissioners:
— Accepted the resignation of Perry House, Mount Pleasant Township treasurer, effective Dec. 31. Commissioners will have to name a replacement.
— Agreed to grant a variance for 484 12000 Road, Mound Valley, because a residential addition was built too close to the sewage lagoon on the property.
— Heard from Charlie Morse, Labette County emergency management director, that legislation has been proposed that would limit first responders in Kansas to only offering CPR, first aid and an automated external defibrillator to patients. Doing more than that would require insurance and certification increases that many volunteers may not be willing to do. The Kansas Emergency Management Agency is against the legislation as are Labette County firefighters and first responders.
— Approved a resolution that endorses the Great Plains Development Authority’s ability to issue industrial revenue bonds for a prospect at the industrial park. Great Plains’ Brad Reams and Becky Dantic said they cannot release information publicly yet.
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