ALTAMONT – A resident of the 2nd Commission District asked Labette County Commissioner Brian Kinzie to resign because of a perceived ethical issue involved in the wind development.
Kinzie, who represents the 2nd District, refused to resign and noted that he turned over a similar request from Commission Chairman Lonie Addis to County Counselor Brian Johnson. One of Kinzie’s sons has held paperwork from RWE, a German utility that’s looking to develop a wind utility in Labette County, since 2019 though the paperwork has not been signed. And the son has said he does not want to sign it until the development is more lucrative for Labette County and is approved by the commission.
RWE is exploring the development of a wind farm that would have 50 to 75 turbines generating between 200 and 250 megawatts of power. The turbines could be 500 feet tall at the tip of the blade. RWE is collecting wind and weather information now, and this data will help determine turbine location, height and the number of turbines needed. RWE filings with a utility raise the question of the turbine count. Now, the proposed development footprint is set between 19000 Road and 8000 Road and Meade Road and Douglas Road.
The portion of Monday’s meeting dealing with the wind development was a bit chaotic at times with several conversations going on at the same time between different commissioners and those in the audience. The meeting took place at the shop area of the county barn in Altamont because equipment needs of Public Works were discussed.
Richard Erickson of Edna asked Kinzie to resign. He said Labette County’s way of life is under attack by the wind development. He said in the rural area neighbors know neighbors. He said some people were poor but felt rich because of their surroundings.
“You start letting these things in and taking that away, you take away our riches, which is why we live here,” he said. He said he lives below the poverty line but feels wealthy because of what he has around him.
“And I don’t want that taken away.”
Kinzie has been questioned about his knowledge of the wind development and support of it before becoming a commissioner in January. He spoke at a county meeting in February 2020, three months before filing for the commission seat. He was later questioned if he called the RWE representative working on leasing land in the county, which Kinzie explained. He said he’s talked to the RWE representative in meetings and by phone when he set up his appearance at the February meeting in Edna. Kinzie and Commissioner Cole Proehl said they have contacted the RWE representative, but only to ask questions when they wanted to find an answer. Not to negotiate individually for the county.
“Ethics and trust go hand in hand. And if there is a question about ethics then there is a lack of trust,” Erickson said.
He asked Kinzie to resign immediately. He explained to The Sun he was not accusing Kinzie of being unethical only that there is an appearance of that, which leads to a loss of trust.
Kinzie’s response to Erickson: “I’m not going to step down.”
Zed Goodwin, a Labette County resident, spoke first at the meeting and questioned Proehl and Kinzie about last Friday’s meeting, when a resolution passed that sets restrictions for the wind development.
The resolution, which passed 2-1 (Addis voted no), states in part: The development must be a mile from incorporated towns. Turbines would be 1,600 feet from non-participating homes and follow guidelines on distances from wildlife areas and airports. RWE would pay cash or provide a surety bond of $9.7 million for future decommissioning of turbines. Payments in lieu of taxes would total $7,500 to $9,000 per megawatt with annual adjustments for inflation of 2% and 10% increase in years six, eight and 10. An initial payment of $1.5 million would be given to Labette County at the project commencement. RWE would pay $50,000 for rural fire departments, $50,000 to the sheriff’s office and $50,000 to 911 dispatch. A road use agreement for all use of roads would be monitored by Labette County.
Goodwin wondered why commissioners approved the resolution if the wind farm construction was still two years out. He also wondered why the agreement didn’t mention schools.
He asked if Kinzie and Proehl had discussed the resolution before the meeting. They said they did not. Addis said the two appeared to be working together on it. “The first time I heard or saw it was at the meeting on (April) 30,” Kinzie said. He added that he voted for the resolution because he was ready to move forward.
Kinzie noted that the resolution is fluid and “nothing in that resolution is concrete.”
Addis pointed out that it’s a legislative resolution and it is concrete unless changed and replaced by another resolution.
Kinzie, in response to Goodwin’s question, said commissioners anticipated another resolution that would benefit schools.
Goodwin told commissioners he’s not heard from anyone who supports the wind development.
He also asked Proehl about his comments on April 26 that he wanted to improve the overall health of the county by reducing the numbers of those living in poverty. The wind development could help reduce the tax burden by its payments to the county. Reduced levies could help retain and recruit new businesses and industries. More jobs, better roads and schools will help reduce poverty and improve health, Proehl explained.
Goodwin also asked about the point in the resolution that would keep the development a mile from incorporated towns. Edna researched the issue and Kinzie said he was in favor of looking at it. He wasn’t in favor of zoning but was in favor of putting distance between wind mills and cities.
Johnson said this could be done in a resolution but it could also be done by zoning. Setting up zoning around towns requires a comprehensive plan in that community and a board that oversees zoning issues in that territory, among other steps. The process is expensive and could take up to two years to complete.
Proehl said some agreements he’s seen in his research have included those boundaries that wind developers agreed to. He said the agreement with the wind company would be cleaner and less apt to end up in litigation.
Goodwin asked commissioners if they would research adding the 3-mile development restriction that exists around Parsons to other towns. Proehl said yes. Parsons has restricted wind development within the 3-mile zone.
Labette County USD 506 Superintendent John Wyrick discussed his responsibility to the 1,600 students and the 300 staff members who work at the five grade schools and high school in the district. Four of these facilities are in or near the proposed footprint of the wind development. Wyrick has been attending commission meetings of late but missed Friday’s meeting when the resolution was passed. He said the Labette County school board is neutral on the wind development, but the resolution shocked him. Last Monday, Wyrick thought Kinzie said if he was going to vote that day on the wind farm he would vote no.
“It’s still no today. This resolution is a starting point,” Kinzie said.
Addis got up from his chair and walked around, gesturing.
“Go on, Lonie. Showboat. Showboat,” Kinzie said, asking Addis if he was going to call him a name. Addis called Proehl a coward for bringing up the resolution on Friday without having it on the agenda so more people could attend the meeting and hear the discussion.
Kinzie said commissioners want to put money in schools. At a meeting that included Brandon Hernandez, an RWE representative, there was discussion about supporting schools.
Wyrick said at no point has USD 506 asked for any money.
Wyrick said he asked last week if commissioners were willing to look into establishing zones around communities.
“We as a school don’t know the health effects that potentially could impact our kids and our staff that have to come to that building every day we are in session. They don’t have a choice to stay home. We don’t know the impacts,” Wyrick said.
He said commissioners said previously they were willing to help communities establish these zones.
Wyrick said now that the resolution passed he didn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to help his students and staff on this issue. He doesn’t know if turbines will impact the students or the delivery of education. He asked commissioners to get on top of this and work with communities to develop these boundaries.
Goodwin asked if RWE saw the resolution approved Friday and accepted it would the majority of commissioners say, “let’s go?”
“This is a starting point,” Proehl said.
Wyrick asked commissioners if they could amend the resolution to add a restriction that wind turbines could not be built within 3 miles of a community.
One person asked commissioners if they could amend the resolution Monday. Proehl said they could but he didn’t think it was necessary at this time. Another person asked why the resolution was needed in the first place then.
Proehl said it was necessary.
Addis said the commission will get to a point where it cannot continue to talking about wind farms. He claimed that Proehl and Kinzie were negotiating with RWE and working together. Kinzie and Proehl denied this and Kinzie started recording Addis with his phone and tried to get him to repeat what he had said.
Addis asked Proehl how he knew that RWE would not accept the 1,600-foot setback from a home. Proehl made that statement on Friday. He clarified Monday that the 1,600 feet was based on his review of agreements that Kansas counties had with wind developers.
Proehl told The Sun after the meeting that the largest setback he saw in Kansas was 2,500 feet in Pratt County, but that was in an isolated area. Another county tried to use 2,000 feet but the developer was going to contest that. Three counties have 1,400-foot setbacks and six counties have no setback minimums.
“I felt that (1,600 feet) was the largest setback that wouldn’t get contested in a court and we would have a chance to win,” Proehl told The Sun. He added that he did not discuss the resolution with RWE but based his guess they would not accept more than 1,600 feet on his research of other developments in Kansas.
“I’m trying to protect the citizens of Labette County as much as possible while also protecting the land rights of individual landowners and protecting the county from potential litigation,” Proehl told The Sun.
A couple people attending Monday’s meeting said Proehl should have started higher with the setbacks and longer for the zone between a community and the wind development. Proehl asked if they would be happy if he put 3 1/2 miles on the resolution. The answer was no.
Mel Haas, who served on the county’s wind advisory board and formerly lived inside the footprint of a wind farm in Illinois, said he believes commissioners when they say they don’t have the answers from RWE. Wind farm companies generally do not work with county officials.
“So they’re trying to answer our questions with answers they don’t have. The shame of it is that this wind company and others set up these scenarios and then they sit back and let us implode,” Haas said.
Proehl said he was trying to get RWE to the table. That was his goal. He was not trying to hide the resolution by bringing it up at Friday’s meeting when it was not on the agenda. He said the wind development came up at previous meetings when it was not on the agenda.
Wyrick said he appreciated the commissioners’ willingness to work for the county residents. He wants them to work together to do what’s best for the county.
“I know that you can. I know that you will. Personal attacks …. This isn’t the time for that,” Wyrick said.
“So work together for all of us,” he said. He knows their decisions won’t please everyone, but he implored them to continue to listen to the public and pursue a 3-mile restricted zone around communities.
Mike Howerter said he lives in the 2nd District and is friends with Kinzie’s brother. He said he thinks Brian Kinzie is basically a good person.
“Most of the people in here their major asset is their home and their property. And they feel that that’s being attacked. The second thing is the lifestyle. We live in a beautiful county. And that end of it is one of the most beautiful parts of it. And there’s a reason these big corporations don’t try to put windmill farms inside of Chicago or Parsons or Oswego. Because they know the people would just come unglued,” Howerter said.
He said people are upset. Addis listened and voiced opposition to wind development.
“We don’t want a compromise. We don’t want the damn things. It’s just that simple. And if you haven’t figured that out by now, I mean, what could be more evident than that?” Howerter said. He encouraged commissioners to listen to their constituents.
“We’re just opposed to them. Would you like one of these in your backyard? I don’t think so,” he said.
Johnson said RWE is in the permit phase and two commissioners have stated they have not made up their minds. The two want to know their options and the benefit to the county before they decide.
“You’re asking the commissioners for answers. The wind farm company hasn’t given them any. None,” Johnson said.
How much money will be involved? How big will the development be? Where would transport lines go? No answers are forthcoming.
“You’re asking all these questions. I’m not saying they’re not good questions. … The fact of the matter is you’re angry because you have commissioners that are saying ‘I want to hear what’s best for the county.’ You may not agree with that because you say ‘I don’t want it at all.’ And I understand that. But we’ve got all kinds of allegations floating around out here. And the fact of the matter is we don’t even have a return phone call yet,” Johnson said.
He said he contacted RWE about what they could offer the county. RWE didn’t know and was going to have its legal department contact the county when something was worked up.
“That was three weeks ago,” Johnson said.
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