OSWEGO – Labette County commissioners as soon as Monday may appoint five members to a wind turbine study group that will make recommendations on wind farm regulations.
Commissioners on Wednesday shared five names for the study group and discussed the selections. Each commissioner recommended one or two members for the group. The appointments will not be official until resolutions are passed at a future meeting, perhaps as early as Monday. Study group members will then have to be sworn in before meeting.
The study group will be tasked with exploring wind farm development in Labette County. RWE, a German utility company, has begun investigating the possibility of developing a wind farm in the western half of the county and is communicating with landowners. The development, if it moves forward, would be a couple of years in the future, but commissioners have said they want to be prepared and know the issues before then. Commissioners implemented a one-year moratorium on wind farm construction, until November 2020, while the study group meets and makes recommendations to commissioners.
Nominated group members are: Sandy Krider, Labette County Public Works director; Rod Landrum, retired executive director of the Labette Health Foundation; Kevin King, a crop insurance agent who lives near Big Hill Lake; Mel Hass, who formerly lived within the footprint of a wind farm in DeKalb County, Illinois, before moving to Labette County; and Lori Whitworth, an attorney who does not practice law in Labette County at this time but lives in the county. Whitworth formerly lived in Neosho County, where Apex Clean Energy is building a wind farm, and is familiar with wind energy. Charlie Morse, the county’s emergency preparedness director and sanitation officer, will be facilitator for the study group.
Commissioners want the study group to meet at least monthly and consider setback distances for wind turbines from homes, roads and property lines; the impact of wind turbines on wildlife; the impact on the county’s roads and bridges; taxing issues; security issues; and fire prevention. These topic areas are not a finalized list.
Commissioners Doug Allen and Lonie Addis each wanted Krider on the study group because of her knowledge and experience in road and bridge building in the county. Commissioner Fred Vail didn’t want Krider on the panel.
“I just think there can be some bias there,” Vail said.
He added that perception is everything.
“I just think the perception of having a county employee actually a member of that committee is not good,” Vail said.
Allen thought it would be more efficient having Krider on the panel because of her knowledge base and experience, especially since roads are affected by turbine construction. She could serve as a resource to the panel, but having her on the panel and attending every meeting would streamline information flow.
“I just think this committee should be made up of citizens, not county employees,” Vail said.
Allen and Addis both repeated what they heard from other Kansas commissioners in counties where wind turbines are operating. They heard that roads are impacted by developments during construction and for years after that.
“That is the direct plug in for what happens to our infrastructure when the construction starts. If she’s right there on the ground as part of this group I think we’re going to be better off than if she’s just a resource,” Allen said of Krider.
After the discussion, Allen and Addis both said they wanted Krider on the study group.
The commissioners mentioned other issues related to wind farm development, but not in much detail, from decommissioning to permitting to zoning to policing decibel levels if turbines get built in the county.
Commissioner Addis previously expressed concern about conflicts from members on the study group, but County Counselor Brian Johnson apparently quieted that concern. If a study group member were to sign a lease with a wind farm, or somehow benefit financially from its construction and operation, he or she would have to share that potential conflict with Johnson. Study group members would have to step down if conflicts arose, Johnson said.
Commissioners also discussed taxing wind turbines. Wind farms have a 10-year property tax exemption from the state of Kansas, but Commissioner Allen thought there should be some way to tax them. He was upset that when Kansas lawmakers were asked to consider legislation to restrict wind farm developments that they passed on the issue and left it to local control. But in 2017 lawmakers approved a 10-year property tax exemption for wind farms, which impacts every county with wind energy developments. Lawmakers preempted a county’s ability to mitigate damage to infrastructure by collecting property taxes from the wind farms, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense does it?” Commissioner Addis asked.
Commissioners also discussed resources for the study group. Morse would be a resource on zoning, if the study group recommends that. Vail wanted someone from Twin Valley Rural Electric Cooperative to serve as a resource to explain how the wind developments are connected to the electrical grid. He also thought a Farm Bureau representative would be a good resource for the group.
In other business Wednesday, the commission:
— Agreed to allow Sheriff Darren Eichinger to get informal bids on replacing three vehicles. Commissioners later received the bid from Mike Carpino Ford in Parsons for $31,349.40 per vehicle for Ford pickups for the sheriff’s department. One Dodge pickup now used for patrol will be given to the appraiser’s office.
— Approved having attorney Amy Ross on the county’s indigents defense contract for 2020. Douglas Steele, Shane Adamson and Lucas Nodine are the other attorneys on the contract for 2019. The county pays attorneys $2,500 a month to handle misdemeanor cases and juvenile matters in Labette County District Court. The contracts cost the county $120,000 a year in total.
— Opened the only bid received to supply fuel to the county in 2020. Bartlett Co-op provided the bid. The co-op bid $120,900 for 60,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline; $191,049 for 85,100 gallons of clear diesel; and $106,548 for 52,000 gallons of red diesel for off-road vehicles at the quarry operation. If the cost per gallon drops below the quoted amount the county can purchase fuel on the open market.
— Approved a resolution to implement the extension of the 1 cent countywide sales tax, which will start July 1, 2021, and sunset five years later unless renewed again by voters.
— Approved bills and payroll. Among the bills was $1,639.35 to pay jurors and expenses related to the Christopher Collins jury trial last week that ended in mistrial before the jury was empaneled.
— Heard that two fire vehicles from Labette County responded this week to a large grass fire in Elk County. A tanker from Oswego Fire Department and a brush rig from Mound Valley Fire Department responded.
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