ERIE – Christmas will not be coming early for Neosho County employees, as Neosho County Commissioners voted Thursday against taking Monday, Dec. 23, as an extra holiday. Commission Chair Gail Klaassen said while it would be nice to have the day off, it would be a significant expense and it would be difficult. Commissioner Paul Westhoff agreed, but wanted to keep the schedule consistent.
“In January, the Commission makes the holidays for the year,” Westhoff said. “I think we need to stick to that. It’d be nice and I’d love to do it, but we can keep in mind next time.”
The Neosho County Courthouse will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but will otherwise hold regular business hours.
Shaw Road – again
The issue of the speed limit on Shaw Road was raised as new business, even though it has been discussed before. Commissioner David Orr said many constituents had contacted him about increasing the speed limit to 65 mph, as it was designed to be. The speed limit through the town of Shaw would be left at 45 mph. Orr reasoned that it would not cost the county anything as they already had the signs for the speed limit change.
Commissioners sought the opinions of Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown and Undersheriff Greg Taylor. Brown did not oppose the change, noting that it was a newer road with wide shoulders and it would likely be safer than other roads at the same speed limit, namely K-39 and K-47. Brown said K-47 is 65 mph with no shoulder.
Taylor did not agree. He said the amount of agricultural traffic on Shaw would make it hazardous to increase the speed limit and refuted the rumor that the sheriff’s department used the road as a speed trap.
“I see every ticket we give on that road,” Taylor said. “I have never seen one for less than 70 miles per hour. If we increase the speed, it will only get worse.”
The matter was tabled for further discussion.
Neosho Ridge Wind
Engineer Tanner Yost with Kirkham and Michael introduced his colleague Dave Prater to discuss the Neosho Ridge Wind project. Prater is a construction observer who ensures work is being done to roads, often taking calls and complaints with locals and addressing them with Apex Clean Energy, who is constructing the wind farm. According to Yost, Prater is experienced in wind farm construction and has been involved with at least six other wind projects. Yost said the contract between his company and Neosho County might not cover the construction of all turbine sites.
“We’ve allocated 75 site visits and the time adds up,” Yost said. “It’s up to you guys how much we’re out there, but we are saving some budget for post construction.”
Kirkham and Michael was hired by the commission after the agreements with Apex were signed, mainly to ensure the road use agreement was being followed. The firm was contracted for $200,000. Orr took issue with what Prater was doing, and how much it was costing him to do it, with construction supervision costing approximately $100 dollars an hour, according to Yost. During questioning by Orr, Prater’s lack of a college degree was also mentioned.
“Why is this man taking complaints from homeowners and not our own county employees?” Orr asked. “We could send (county counselor) Seth (Jones) door-to-door in a car for less than that.”
Westhoff took issue with Orr’s condemnation of Prater’s work and was receptive to working with him on making sure that the taxpayers’ concerns were being heard.
“(A degree is) a damn piece of paper,” Westhoff said.
Klaassen noted that the original construction timeline had gone from nine months to 15 months. Yost explained that a project like the windfarm typically cost around $600,000 for a consulting engineer, significantly higher than the $200,000 paid by Neosho County.
The commission voted to pay an additional fee of $49,000 for their work thus far, to be reimbursed by Apex. They also voted to add $21,000 to the original contract for the extra mileage on haul routes. No further action was taken regarding the contract.
Christ Weatherford of Apex also updated the commission on the ongoing construction, distributing a large packet of drawings. He said they are working on installing access roads and currently have 24 of 139 foundations poured for the turbines. The heavy loads bearing actual turbine components will not appear until approximately April. Weatherford said that they were going to be replacing culverts on 50th road soon and that the issues of trucks driving off the haul routes were being handled.
“They have a map of the route in their trucks,” Weatherford said. “They need to follow it or they will be asked to not work on our project.”
The commission passed a resolution to fine trucks bearing over 5 tons $5,000 per offense if caught driving off of the haul routes.
County Clerk Heather Elsworth interjected to question Yost about his conversation with her husband, Dustie, regarding the safety of roads in the footprint, but was not specific about which road.
“You told my husband that those structures are not safe,” Elsworth said. “You said you would not put your own child on a bus going over those structures. Why hasn’t that concern been made public?”
Yost said that he did not recall that conversation, as he had numerous conversations with Mr. Elsworth husband. The discussion centered around the Olson report, an independent engineering study on structures and roads in the footprint. Yost said he had piggybacked off of the study rather than study the more than 90 structures himself, which he said was a mistake. The Olson study modeled the largest anticipated loads, not the current loads actually on the roads. Yost said that there were structures that he was concerned about, but they could withstand loads within the Kansas legal limits. Weatherford said that the structures that had been called to his attention were going to be replaced before heavier loads were involved.
The final and most agreeable portion of the wind farm construction conversation was about changing the haul route. Rather than head directly back on a county road, commissioners voted to give permission for the trucks to drive on an additional .6 of a mile on 80th and 95th roads to get onto US-169.
In other business, the commission:
• Approved a contract with Advantage for new computers and laptops at a cost of just under $30,000, not including labor.
• Approved a training for the appraiser’s department regarding subsidized training in Wichita.
• Approved the 911 contract with the city of Erie.
• Scheduled a work session with Brown and Foley Equipment regarding the county’s quarry and equipment at 5 pm next Thursday before the regularly scheduled meeting at 6 pm.
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