OSWEGO – Lindsey Wilson asked Labette County commissioners on Monday to institute a 12- to 18-month moratorium on wind farm construction and development to give commissioners more time to study the issue and learn from the legal battles other counties are waging.
Commissioner Lonie Addis made the motion for an 18-month delay, citing Wilson’s remarks and changes to state budget law, but Commissioners Brian Kinzie and Cole Proehl refused to second the motion. The motion died for lack of a second.
Wilson and her family live in what would be the footprint of the wind farm if the German utility company RWE moves forward with the development.
RWE’s wind farm 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. The proposed footprint of the wind development is between 8000 and 19000 roads and Douglas and Meade roads. A little more than two weeks ago, RWE told County Counselor Brian Johnson it wanted 45 days to provide more details on the wind development.
Wilson, who teaches at Labette County USD 506, has spoken to commissioners before about the wind development. On Monday, she asked about 3-mile zones around communities in or near the footprint: Edna, Mound Valley, Altamont and Bartlett. And she asked about zoning in the county.
The county has zoning inside Great Plains Industrial Park. Parsons has a 3-mile zone outside its city limits. Big Hill Lake is federally zoned. Besides that, the county outside of communities is not zoned. Cities that want to put restrictions on wind development near them would have to implement zoning outside their boundaries, an action that would require creating a comprehensive plan and a zoning board to oversee it.
Edna has discussed such a plan but Johnson told commissioners the city council is remaining neutral at this time.
Wilson shared four issues she hoped the commission would address during a moratorium.
The four things Wilson requested:
1. Develop a comprehensive plan so that the county will have consistent protection in place for future commercial-scale industrial wind and solar developments. She said Johnson made clear that no matter what decision the commission makes on any development by RWE, the gate would be open for other developers. “And I think it would be in all of our best interests to be very proactive,” Wilson said.
2. Conduct studies and have processes in place for a 3-mile protective barrier for smaller towns (Edna, Altamont, Mound Valley, Bartlett). This should include research and planning on funding sources, such as using the American Recovery Plan funding that can be used to improve the health of the community. Johnson said this would be up to the communities to create a protective zone around their city limits. Addis said the cities need to determine how important this issue is to them and act accordingly. The issue was important to Parsons in 1976 when it implemented the 3-mile zone, he said.
3. Conduct research on establishing reasonable setback distances from residential properties. She said lawsuits are filed frequently over wind developments. The moratorium would give time for the commission to further research setbacks and see how litigation plays out in other counties. This would help Labette County avoid litigation “as things start to get messy.” Time and research would allow the public to perhaps have more confidence in the decision by the commission because it would have gone through more due diligence.
4. The commission needs to have a more stable presence after a recent attorney general’s investigation determined that a phone call between Kinzie and Proehl on April 27 violated the notice requirement of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Commissioners are to sit through an hour of training on KOMA. Wilson said that all three commissioners are very capable of working together and working toward a solution for the county.
Besides the moratorium, Wilson asked commissioners to rescind Proehl’s resolution that addressed setbacks and payments from RWE, among other points.
Addis, who is against the wind development and made previous unsuccessful motions to impose a new moratorium on the development, talked about the need for a moratorium of at least 18 months on construction and development.
Kinzie said that length of time would “nix the whole project.”
Johnson asked Addis to define development because he would need to spell that out in the resolution setting the moratorium.
Proehl said the county does not have the authority to stop the wind development process, such as completing studies and leasing ground. Johnson agreed because it would be blocking interstate commerce.
“Development in my mind is very, very, very broad, and that would include their ability to contract, which would bring liability on the county,” Johnson said.
Johnson also addressed a concern from Wilson that he defined as the legal term reliance in a contract. Landowners are relying on RWE to pay on the leases they signed. But landowners do not have reliance that the commission will approve a wind development. Commissioners have not come out in support or against the development. Until that happens, it’s buyer beware, Johnson said.
Addis eventually asked for a moratorium on construction and removed the development moratorium. He said one of his concerns is that all people are taxed equally and property is assessed equally. That would not be the case in the footprint of the wind farm.
“A few people that’s in that footprint are going to have to put up with something. They’re going to have to bear something. So they’re going to be assessed differently than everybody else in the county,” Addis said.
Addis’ request for a moratorium died. He gave commissioners an opportunity to speak after the motion died.
Kinzie said at this point he’s not a yes and he’s not a no for the wind development. He wants to see what RWE brings to the table.
Proehl said he developed the resolution to protect landowners’ rights for commerce and protect citizens from “everything else.” He said it promotes economic development and protects the county from litigation. He said he used the strictest setbacks he found in place in Kansas counties. He said the zoning issue is a concern. His research indicates that zoning had to be in place before a developer started signing leases, and Parsons is the only community that had zoning in place.
Wilson asked Proehl about 3,000-foot setbacks recommended for part of Reno County. Proehl said that situation is in litigation now. Wilson suggested letting Reno County blaze the trail and Labette County could learn from what comes from the litigation.
Kinzie said without a moratorium the process can move forward quicker with RWE so the commission and citizens can get answers.
Proehl then discussed his reasoning for placing a 1-mile setback from communities near the footprint in his resolution.
“The easiest way to get that mile would be to get an agreement between the county and RWE and to agree to it in the beginning. And that’s what I thought I could get,” he said, and this would save cities from having to spend money on a comprehensive plan and it will hold up in court. “That was the best that I thought I could do.”
He said the resolution is not set in stone. The county will negotiate with RWE. Wilson asked if the county would negotiate setbacks farther from what’s in the resolution, which includes 1,600 feet from non-participating residences.
“So the 1,600 that was written in the resolution could likely be extended out, negotiated out. That they would accept something farther than that?” Wilson asked.
“There will be give and take all over the place,” Proehl said.
In other business, the commission:
— Agreed to hire accountant Rodney Burns at a cost of $1,400 plus direct expenses to assist with the preparation of the county’s 2022 budget. The additional help is necessary because of changes in budgeting brought on by the Kansas Legislature in Senate Bill 13, which requires all taxing districts to have a revenue neutral rate when budgeting. Burns will help the county calculate that revenue neutral rate, along with other guidance.
— Agreed to hire Carolyn Brock at a cost of $110 per taxing entity to help create budgets for three townships and five cemeteries under the new budget law.
— Met in closed session for attorney-client privileged discussion with Johnson for 10 minutes. No action followed.
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