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Cherokee County panel adopts 1-year wind farm moratorium

COLUMBUS, Kan. – Cherokee County Commission members on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution that establishes a one-year moratorium on wind energy development inside of county limits, saying they want additional information on such operations.

“I believe we, as a commission, deserve the time and the right to fact-find,” said Commissioner Lorie Johnson, of District 2.

The resolution establishes a moratorium and suspends certain types of improvements regarding wind energy on any land within the limits of Cherokee County for one year, officials said.

The wind farm moratorium was approved after Thursday’s special meeting at which commissioners met with representatives from RWE Renewables Americas, of Texas, for the first time to discuss how the county was chosen as a potential site for an industrial wind farm.

Garrett Ketchen, wind development manager with RWE, said the project would benefit local landowners who lease the air above their land and could create 10 to 15 local jobs. He added if the project was approved, it would be installed in three to five years.

“We’re still in the due diligence phase of everything,” Ketchen told the commission last week.

Ketchen said they visited Cherokee County to hear input from the commissioners and to understand their concerns. Officials with RWE did not attend Monday’s meeting and couldn’t be reached for comment.

RWE Renewables is the same company pitching a wind farm project in neighboring Labette County.

After fielding phone calls from concerned property owners, two Cherokee County commissioners expressed disappointment about the lack of communication from RWE. Johnson said she had heard about it over the last few months, but they weren’t contacted by officials until last week.

“We had a few landowners call,” she said Thursday. “And I have to be really honest with you, that left a really bad taste in my mouth to know that the first place you didn’t come was the commissioner, to say, ‘Hey, we’re considering putting these gigantic industrial wind turbines in your county.’ It wasn’t until yesterday (Wednesday) that you went looking for my phone number, and we meet here every Monday. and I knew you were here about three to four months ago.”

Commission Chairman Cory Moates said company officials should have visited with county commissioners first before they started talking to residents.

“I just want to point out that I don’t know how you guys do business,” he said at the Thursday meeting. “Apparently, not the way I do business.”

Two commissioners, one from from Neosho County and one from Labette, were present at Thursday’s meeting to offer what they’ve learned from wind developers aiming to move into their regions.

Paul Westhoff, Neosho County commissioner, said from his county’s experience, RWE went out and leased ground and commissioned it without the county knowing anything about it. There are now more than 130 wind turbines in Westhoff’s district, he said.

Lonie Addis, Labette County commissioner, recommended that Cherokee County commissioners consider a resolution establishing a moratorium to prevent any further progress on the wind farm project. Westhoff also recommended a moratorium.

Addis has been openly opposed to wind energy development in Labette County and recommended his own commission to pass a moratorium resolution, but he was outnumbered by those in favor.

“To see what they went through in Neosho County, to see what they’re dealing with, to see the potential of what’s happening in Labette County, I would go to war against any legal firm or any action taken by anyone if I had two other commissioners on my side,” Addis said.

Moates said they are prepared to go to war, if necessary. Johnson agreed and said as a landowner and a commissioner, wind farms aren’t happening in the county on her watch.

“It’s a personal fight for me,” Johnson said Thursday. “I don’t want to look at them. I don’t want to see them. I drive to Crawford County on a regular basis in the evening and looking over, it looks like a space zone with all of the red flickering lights. It’s just absurd. I can’t imagine living under that. I can’t imagine living near it. I don’t want to.”

On Monday, Cherokee County commissioners heard input from a local property owner, Leon King, who weighed the pros and cons of a wind farm from his perspective. The commissioners thanked him for his insight.

Johnson added that she has talked with several constituents and said she has still yet to meet one person who’s in favor of a wind project in Cherokee County.

“But it’s our duty here to understand how it’s going to impact everyone in the county, not just the one who stands to gain some money,” she said.