OSWEGO – Labette County residents interested in following the committee investigating wind energy development for the county will be able to follow it online.
Labette County commissioners on Monday agreed to pay retired Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Dave Oas $10 an hour and 50 cents a mile to travel to meetings of the committee and broadcast them on Facebook. Oas previously broadcast meetings of the committee on Facebook Live on his Renewable Energy Awareness – Labette County page. That may be the site for the broadcasts, but Oas didn’t know if Facebook Live would be used or Zoom.
Commissioners on Monday extended the moratorium on wind farm construction for four months to allow the committee to complete its research and present findings to the commission within 90 days. The committee has not met since March 9 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its first meeting since the pandemic will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Edna Grade School gymnasium.
The wind farm committee has a number of areas to study, among them are decommissioning wind turbines and the impact of wind development on roads, neighboring properties, wildlife and the environment. RWE, a German utility, is exploring the possibility of developing a wind farm in western Labette County. RWE also is collecting lease agreements.
Also on Monday, Oas read letters he wrote to individual commissioners asking them to extend the moratorium for a year. He wrote that once the moratorium is lifted a wind energy company will begin spending on construction, public relations and making payments to participants. Developers also will form alliances to help with government boards, he wrote.
Broadcasting the committee meetings was one of the topics discussed between commissioners and Charlie Morse, the Labette County Emergency Management director.
Morse also discussed with commissioners using COVID-19 relief money to pay for an air truck used by rural fire departments to refill air tanks they wear on their back when entering burning structures. The current vehicle is a maintenance headache and the air equipment is old and needs replaced. Morse said his department spent $6,000 in 2019 for work on the air truck.
Tying the use of the truck to the pandemic is the issue, Morse told commissioners. The state SPARK task force provided Labette County with $3.9 million to distribute for COVID-19-related expenses for cities, schools, organizations and businesses. But the spending had to directly relate to COVID-19 and not have been a need before the pandemic was announced on March 12. Commissioners have previously discussed the need for an air truck and offered to pay half the cost if the fire departments paid the other half.
Morse said he just didn’t want the fire departments to get in trouble for spending that’s not tied to the pandemic and be forced to pay it back. The county would first be on the hook for the money and may have to seek reimbursement from the fire departments if the spending was disallowed.
Commissioners and Morse said they support fire departments in the county and want to help. But they want the spending to follow program rules.
“If it could qualify for SPARK, I’d be all over myself to sign that document,” Commissioner Lonie Addis said.
Representatives from Evergy met with commissioners Monday. The company is in the process of upgrading its infrastructure in Southeast Kansas and wants to purchase additional easement from landowners on Wallace Road. The county has two parcels of property with access from Wallace.
The utility has a narrow easement now on the east side of the paved road and wants a wider easement, 60 feet from the center of the road, according to David Hendon of Evergy.
The county has a 100-foot right of way, 50 feet on either side of the road, also measured from the center of the road. So Evergy’s right of way would extend 10 feet farther. This would give the utility 3 feet on either side of the transmission line.
Hendon said the additional right of way would give the utility the ability to upgrade the lines and meet new federal safety regulations for the 69-kilovolt transmission line.
Addis told Hendon he was concerned with Mitchell Cemetery and other cemeteries along the road, which is in Montana Township. Becky Czapansky, a township representative, attended the discussion.
Gary Cundiff of Evergy told Addis that the electrical transmission line will span the cemetery and no poles would be placed in the cemetery. Tall structures on the north and south of the cemetery would support the line as it crosses the cemetery.
Addis said he didn’t want to have to re-inter anyone buried in the cemeteries.
Kari West, customer solutions manager for Evergy, said the upgrades are part of a long-range plan for the transmission system because of additional capacity needed to support tenants in Great Plains Industrial Park and other places. She said the 69 kV line will run out of capacity at some point, and this project, the first of many in SEK, will help alleviate that. Eventually, the line on Wallace will be upgraded to a 138 kV line and the substation in Parsons will be upgraded as well.
“We’ve been looking at load capacity challenges across Southeast Kansas,” West said.
Addis said he didn’t see an issue with the county granting the additional easement on its properties after County Counselor Brian Johnson reviews the issue.
Laura Moore, city of Parsons community development director, and Jim Zaleski, city economic development director, updated commissioners on SPARK program spending.
The county set up four program areas: business, connectivity, food service and child and senior care. About 50% of the $900,000 placed in the programs has been spent. After pending requests for funds are paid out, the programs will have about $97,000 left to be distributed and spent before the end of the year.
Moore and Zaleski suggested the county only approve allocations for reimbursements so that all the money the county received, $3.9 million in total, will have been spent by the Dec. 30 deadline.
Commissioners agreed to do that.
Addis also asked about the air truck for fire departments. Zaleski agreed with Morse that the air truck may not qualify based on current program rules.
Commissioner Cole Proehl thought that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have grant programs that could help purchase the air truck. Those funds would have more leeway for fire departments compared to the restrictions on SPARK money.
In another matter, the commission heard from Roger Duroni about the need for ditches to be cleaned out on York Road to help alleviate some flooding. The county was supposed to do the work after the ditches dried out but only the first mile south of U.S. 400 has been done. Sandy Krider, Public Works director, was to work on the issue with Duroni.