OSWEGO – The COVID-19 pandemic kept a committee studying wind energy in Labette County from having public meetings, but that work will continue soon based on direction from the Labette County Commission on Friday.
The last committee meeting was March 9. Committee member Mel Hass visited with commissioners Friday morning about the committee and asked the commission to extend the moratorium, which put a hold on wind farm construction for a year in the county to allow the committee time to study and make recommendations to the commission. Hass said all four committee members support extending the moratorium. The committee had five members but lost one because of a move.
The commissioners did not act on the moratorium Friday. They have one more meeting to consider it, Nov. 9, before it expires Nov. 13.
Hass said the committee had a number of areas to study, among them were decommissioning wind turbines and studying the turbines’ impact on roads, neighboring properties, wildlife and the environment. They also established recommendations for meteorological towers that a wind developer is using to measure wind in a target area. RWE, a German utility, is exploring the possibility of developing a wind farm in western Labette County. RWE also is collecting lease agreements.
“So they’re moving forward, and we’re kind of stagnant now,” Hass said.
He said extending the moratorium would give the committee more time to meet with wind energy experts and tour area wind farms for study.
On Monday, Commissioner Lonie Addis made a motion to extend the moratorium, but it died for a lack of a second. New Commissioner Cole Proehl, who was sworn in Monday, said he needed to study the issue before voting on an extension.
Addis wanted to give Proehl time to study. Commissioner Fred Vail said Friday he wanted to make clear that the moratorium did not have to be extended for the committee to meet.
Addis asked commissioners if they should appoint the fifth member of the committee before the panel began meeting.
Vail and Proehl both said the committee should start meeting right away.
“I think we need to get started,” Proehl said.
Vail suggested the committee set deadlines for the research and reporting.
Hass, Emergency Management Director Charlie Morse and commissioners then discussed venue options.
Hass said one purpose of the committee is to gather public input. As a public body, the committee cannot exclude the public from the meetings. Commissioners asked Morse, who chairs the committee meetings but has no vote, to find venues in which the committee and public can meet safely given current guidance from health officials. They also discussed broadcast options because some members of the public may not be comfortable attending the meetings.
Morse said the next meeting location was to be Edna. County Counselor Brian Johnson suggested the basement of the Parsons Municipal Building would have plenty of space to distance attendees and the committee. The building also may have better internet availability if the meeting was to be broadcast live.
Addis still wants commissioners to find the fifth member of the committee, and he wants the decommissioning issue to continue to be studied.
“I do not want to leave our children and our grandchildren with these great big blocks of concrete on their farmlands,” Addis said. “We are not owners of the land. We are caretakers.”
Commissioners met with Jim Zaleski, economic development director for Parsons, and Laura Moore, community development director for Parsons, about the SPARK program.
The county received $3,983,558.77 from the state’s SPARK program, which is distributing federal pandemic relief money. The money can be used to reimburse COVID-19-related expenses or for projects tied to the pandemic. Local businesses or organizations have until the end of the year to spend money received or to substantially complete funded projects. Applications for this funding are available through the city of Parsons website, parsonsks.com, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The county distributed money directly to cities, schools, Labette Community College, Labette Health and Labette Center for Mental Health Services, as well as to the county itself. Zaleski and Moore are managing the program for the commission. The county approved four program areas to make smaller distributions of the money. Moore gave an update on what’s left.
She said $7,000 is left of the $205,000 in the business program, $182,563 of $305,700 is left in the connectivity program, $109,000 of $161,911 is left in the food program and the $226,889 in senior and child care program funds have been spent.
Of the nearly $900,000 assigned to the programs, about $200,000 remains unspent.
Zaleski asked commissioners about a request for $4,337.05 from First Christian Church in Parsons for cleaning supplies. Commissioners say they have to make sure that the money wouldn’t be used to promote the ministry of a church. The church is a gathering place for the community, not just for parishioners, and it needs to go through extra cleaning after each event, from funeral dinners to elections, commissioners heard. Commissioners have recipients file a memorandum of understanding so that if the money is spent on items not related to the pandemic that the recipients could be required to pay it back.
Johnson told commissioners that no matter if an MOU is signed, the county is on the hook for that money. So if the state didn’t approve of the spending it would get reimbursed by the county.
“The county will be in charge of reimbursing that money, then the county will turn around and try to get that from the church,” Johnson said.
Addis asked commissioners if they wanted to approve the request. Proehl and Vail both wanted to go forward with it, even though they could be creating a precedent in the program.
Morse then asked commissioners about a request from the Hackberry and Labette No. 9 fire departments for bunker gear that could be used if they respond to an ambulance call for a COVID-19 patient. Morse said the spending was allowed by SPARK overseers “at this time.”
Johnson said he didn’t think that would be a good idea. If firefighters have to wear the specific bunker gear when responding to an ambulance call, why wouldn’t ambulance crews have to as well? He and Morse said they support rural firefighters and their mission.
“We just don’t want to see somebody have to pay a whole bunch of money back,” Morse said.
Commissioners decided not to fund the request for now and asked Morse to get more information.
In other matters, the commission:
— Approved payroll of $291,285.32 for the October payroll.
— Approved accounts payable of $415,957.71, with $43,376.20 of that from SPARK program.
— Heard a report from Addis on the Southeast Kansas Juvenile Detention Center in Girard.
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