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County, Apex to inspect damaged roads

ERIE – Neosho County officials, an engineer, and a representative of wind farm developer Apex Clean Energy will tour roads in the Neosho Ridge Wind project area to view damage to county roads.

Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown, County Counselor Seth Jones, engineer Tanner Yost with the firm Kirkham Michael, and Chris Weatherford of Apex will tour the area covered in the county’s Road Use Agreement with Apex.

Yost said he reviewed the area and submitted a report June 10. Jones said that he has not received a written response from Apex, but he is supposed to receive it before the tour.

The report lists some $4.96 million in damage in the Neosho Ridge area, which Yost said is the largest amount of damage he is aware of in Kansas. Yost said the state had up to $2 million in road damage from a wind project before, and he has heard of up to $11 million in other states.

Commissioner Gail Klaassen said the Neosho Ridge project is one of the largest footprints in the state.

Yost said he does not have a comparison of the total roads covered in the RUA and the length of roads that were damaged. He said the report has 42 individual locations of damage and seven line items with multiple locations, which are spread randomly over the area.

The report has a five-page summary and more than 1,000 pages total that include photos. The issues include pump guards that were struck, structures that were installed incorrectly, and roads that do not have enough gravel.

The damage estimate is based on contractor pricing, Yost said. He calculated asphalt overlay at $200,000 per mile and rock aggregate at two inches per mile.

Jones said the county could sue if Apex does not meet its obligation, but the situation has not yet reached that point.

Appraiser Robert McElroy said Apex filed property tax exemption paperwork that listed March as the project completion date, with no specific date.

Klaassen said the project is not completed until the RUA is fulfilled.

The county has not accepted back any of the roads in the agreement, and Brown said he has not compiled lists on any repair work the county has done. He said last week’s storm brought six to eight inches of rainfall and up to 12 inches in some parts of south-central Neosho County.

Commissioners at Tuesday morning’s meeting also met with Matt Godinez, executive director of Chanute Regional Development Authority and Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, and also with the windfarm moratorium committee. He proposed that the county adopt a resolution to regulate wind development.

He said he is studying resolutions in other areas to set regulations and stipulations on setbacks and other issues. Godinez said he has not found anyone who felt that county zoning would remotely be a good idea, and a resolution would not be a complete ban. The resolution would not apply to other industries.

In other business, the commission met with accountant Rodney Burns and answered questions from him about the upcoming budget.

Commissioners set a hearing for 10 am Sept. 14 to discuss whether to exceed the Revenue Neutral Rate levy of 53.939 mills.

Burns said the first draft of the budget would require a 29-mill increase, 40 percent above what it has been the past few years, but commissioners do not actually expect to exceed the RNR.

“You’re not saying you’re going to,” County Clerk Heather Elsworth said.

“We’re going to do what it takes to get it down,” Klaassen said.

Elsworth said she has been advising taxing entities to schedule RNR hearings in case the assessment in November varies from current figures. Jones said there is no reason the county can’t go down on the levy from the RNR.

RNR hearings must be held between Aug. 20 and Sept. 20, and Elsworth said she is accepting budgets as late as October.

The commission will hold a budget work session at 1 pm Aug. 3 before its next regular meeting.

McElroy reported that an appeal by River Rock on appraisal of its low-producing wells will go to the Kansas Supreme Court. River Rock has about 1,600 total oil and gas wells in Neosho County.

Commissioner Paul Westhoff asked to rescind his vote last week on hiring a noxious weed director. The commission approved a vote to reconsider the hiring, then voted 2-1 to hire the director with Westhoff opposed.