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Nemaha County looks forward following approval of wind farm agreements

Two weeks after signing and releasing the definitive agreements for the Soldier Creek Wind Farm, the Nemaha County Commissioners are reflecting on the negotiating process, and breathing a sigh of relief as they look toward the future.

While the negotiating process was long and stressful, Commissioners Gary Scoby, Dennis Henry and Tim Burdiek all agreed they are confident in the agreements they signed.

Burdiek said he felt somewhat relieved, but the commissioners had a job to do.

Scoby agreed saying he felt a “sense of relief since signing the final documents.”

“I do feel confident in the final documents and comfortable voting in favor of them,” Scoby said “I, to the best of my ability, studied, reviewed, and made what recommendations I could regarding all documents.”

Henry added that he was “glad” Nemaha County finally got the terms they wanted.

“It has been a long and very demanding process,” Henry said. “I feel very confident in the agreements we voted for. Are they perfect? Probably not, but [we] sure got a step in the right direction to protect Nemaha County.”

While the documents are probably not “perfect” in the eyes of each Nemaha County resident, the commissioners pointed out multiple items in the documents that they considered to be big wins for Nemaha County.

Scoby, Henry and Burdiek all agreed that the 3,000 foot setback for non-participating landowners was by far the greatest accomplishment for Nemaha County.

“We heard time after time at the public hearings, ‘If we have to have a wind farm, can we get 3,000 foot setbacks?’” Scoby said. “There are two turbines in the Soldier Creek project less than 3,000 feet, and they are 2,950 feet.”

There were 132 turbine sites approved by Nemaha County, with 12 of those sites being alternate sites.

Henry said the Road Use and Maintenance Agreement was a “close second” in accomplishments, following the 3,000 foot setback.

Scoby added three other big accomplishments Nemaha County achieved in the agreements, including the term of the project, renegotiating the decommission costs and the complaint resolution agreement.

“Our agreement is for 30 years, then it is renegotiated,” Scoby said. “The cost to decommission will be reviewed every five years and the money for such is secure in a bond or letter of credit. For the complaint resolution agreement, we negotiated and received a process by which one can raise a complaint without having to hire their own attorney.”

While they did have multiple accomplishments within the agreements, it wasn’t an easy process to get there.

“Probably the most difficult part was the intervals between meetings,” Scoby said. “We meet weekly. When you add in other entities’ schedules, it was sometimes weeks before much progress was made. It would have been nice to all sit down at a table and hammer out details in a week or two.”

Henry agreed, saying the length of time it took was difficult, but acknowledged the hard work of the attorneys, who were negotiating on the County’s behalf.

“Mr. [James] Neeld and Mr. [Brad] Lippert worked extremely hard to get the terms we wanted,” Henry said.

Burdiek added that it was difficult staying focused on getting all of the agreements right.

What’s Next

Throughout the lengthy negotiating process, the commissioners heard from Nemaha County residents about creating a comprehensive plan, and possibly implementing zoning following the creation of a comprehensive plan. Henry said now that the agreements are signed, the County can “devote their attention to the comprehensive plan.”

“We are pursuing a comprehensive plan and possibly zoning,” Henry said. “We have been in contact with two or three planners and hope to have them address the commission in the next couple weeks.”

Scoby added that the commissioners have been compiling a list of potential candidates to chair a steering committee. According to Scoby, the position will be a paid position.

“That committee will draft and submit a comprehensive plan to we commissioners for approval… or not,” Scoby said. “Should the plan be adopted, another committee will draft and recommend zoning laws, regulations, staffing, etc. The zoning issue would then be placed on a ballot and voted on. That is the process as I understand it.”

The Nemaha County Commissioners meet at the Nemaha County Courthouse at 9 a.m. every Monday.