ALTAMONT – As a Labette County committee studying wind energy continues its work, the first four wind farm lease and easement agreements have been filed.
Four of five committee members – Sandy Krider, Kevin King, Mel Hass and Rod Landrum – and facilitator Charlie Morse met Tuesday evening in the Labette County Public Works building in Altamont. Committee member Lori Whitworth wasn’t able to attend. Eleven members of the public attended and discussed various issues with the committee.
The Labette County Commission formed the committee to look into wind farm regulations after a German utility expressed interest in developing a wind farm in Labette County.
RWE is exploring the possibility of developing a wind farm in the western half of the county. The development, if it moves forward, would be a couple of years in the future, but commissioners want to be prepared and know the issues before then. Commissioners implemented a moratorium on wind farm construction, until November 2020, while the committee studies and makes recommendations to commissioners.
RWE Renewables Development filed four memorandum of lease and easement agreements with the Labette County Register of Deeds Office in Oswego earlier this month. The agreements allow the leased land to be used for wind energy purposes and to determine the feasibility of wind energy conversion on the properties. The leases are for a developmental term, which will continue until wind energy is generated or June 30, 2025. The leases also have an operational term, which runs from the generation date or the expiration of the developmental term to the end of the 30th calendar year after that date.
The agreements relate to 4,874.5 acres of land split among 42 tracts. The land generally is in the western half of Labette County. The north-south borders are generally 21000 Road and 9000 Road and the east border is generally U.S. 59.
These likely are just the first of many memorandum agreements to be filed with the deeds office.
On Tuesday evening, the wind farm committee shared the progress of their studies into issues related to setbacks of turbines from homes and property lines, infrastructure, security and impact on wildlife.
The committee will meet again at 5 p.m. Feb. 12 at Mound Valley and perhaps again on Monday, Feb. 17, as a representative from RWE is meeting with county commissioners that morning. They also agreed that Whitworth would serve as a spokesperson for the committee. They want to tour the Neosho Ridge Wind project in Neosho County in March and perhaps meet with Neosho County Commissioner Paul Westhoff.
Hass discussed his study into setbacks and said he wants to get more information before releasing more details. He also discussed shadow flicker, created when the blades turn in the morning and evening on sunny days, and its impact on his sleep habits. Hass lived in DeKalb County, Illinois, among turbines in a large wind farm. He now lives in Labette County.
Committee members noted the difficulty in finding unbiased information on wind energy development. Information is either biased toward wind energy or against it. Finding middle of the road information and research is difficult.
But Hass and Landrum both said electricity isn’t going away in the United States, and the country needs to find sources to create that power.
“The appetite’s not changing on that,” Hass said. Solar could be an option for the county or wind over fossil fuels.
“So we’ve got to look at that. If this is a viable alternative, yeah, it works for the wind companies, but we have to make it work for us also and work together and be in agreement so it works for everybody.”
Landrum agreed. “We’re all using more of it now. We got to figure out a way to live together.”
Landrum is studying the impact wind energy would have on wildlife and said he’s still studying. He said generally he’s learned that if wind companies follow guidelines as they relate to wind development near wildlife areas impacts could be minimal. He also found that there are four agencies that have wildlife areas in the county, one federal, Big Hill Lake, a number of state through the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and two others in the Chetopa area. He said there likely are other privately owned lands and is looking into finding maps that show locations for these sanctuaries.
Landrum said he’s interested in gathering facts and figures and not hearsay and unsupported stories.
Krider, who is Public Works director for Labette County, discussed recently discovered road damage in the area of Gray Road and 26000 Road north of Dennis. Apparently, trucks hauling rock to a switching station between 10th and 20th roads on Jackson in Neosho County for the 139-turbine Neosho Ridge Wind project have used Labette County roads to get to the destination quicker. The result was rutted and potholed sections of the paved roads and Krider said she’s working on contacting the company to get paid for road repairs and to make sure trucks from now on follow another route to stay off of roads that cannot handle heavy loads.
In Labette County, these trucks supposedly were traveling loaded with rock from Midwest Minerals at Cherryvale along U.S. 400 to Kiowa Road, turning north and heading into Neosho County. They would return empty on Jackson Road down to 26000 Road, west to Gray Road and south to U.S. 400.
Krider thinks Labette County should have been notified of this possible route in advance and that if a project does get built in Labette County that road agreements discuss routes that may impact neighboring counties. The Labette County sheriff and the Kansas Highway Patrol stopped the trucks on Wednesday and Friday last week and Krider hopes the trucks have changed routes.
“I just feel if you’re going to have a project that is located on a county line and there’s a possibility that you’re going to do damage to another county … they need to know,” Krider said.
“Because that’s the only way you’re going to stay good neighbors with the other county.”
An engineer was to inspect three Labette County bridges on these routes that have weight limits less than the weight of loaded trucks and perhaps even less than the empty semitractor trailers.
Krider wants to get this resolved before the rock haulers change to concrete trucks for Neosho Ridge.