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Split vote OK's wind farm plan

County planning and zoning meeting lasts four hours

Staff writer

In a meeting that lasted more than 4 hours Monday, county planning and zoning commissioners approved Expedition Wind’s application for a conditional use permit by a 4-2 vote.

Planning commission members Derek Belton, Dwight Flaming, Jim Schmidt, and Glenn Thiessen voted in favor of sending the plan to county commissioners after hearing company officials discuss the proposal and answer questions from commissioners. Duane Bair and William Kroupa voted against the plan.

Expedition’s development plan passed on a 5-1 vote with Bair, Belton, Flaming, Schmidt and Thiessen in favor and Kroupa opposed.

Commissioner Brad Vannocker recused himself because he was absent for two hearings last week when opponents, supporters, and company officials spoke about the plan. Mel Flaming recused himself last week because he has land in the footprint of the project. Kathy Inlow did not attend Monday because she was out of town, but sent a message to Belton explaining why she approved passing the application.

Inlow’s message said she likes the sight of the turbines and had gone to the Diamond Vista wind farm area in the north portion of the county and checked out the noise level. She did not find the noise level excessive or bothersome.

When company officials outlined their plan to have a licensed engineer certify turbine setbacks from property lines, Bair interrupted with “What you just put forward is illegal.”

Bair said as a retired engineer he’s aware that certification of setback distance needs to come from a surveyor, not an engineer.

Company officials responded that planning and zoning director Sharon Omstead had specified an engineer when she gave recommendations to the commission last week.

Bair closed his folder but raised other complaints before the commission voted.

“I find the new package submitted to us is quite lacking, actually,” Bair said.

He handed commissioners a sheath of paper listing items he believes should be addressed, including details on payments in lieu of tax agreements, road maintenance agreements, and a decommissioning plan.

Belton told Bair those matters are ironed out later with county commissioners.

Bair also said the application lacks a hazardous materials plan and has no plan for blade repair. He said he’d heard, but had not been able to confirm, that an Ellis County landowner became the owner of a blade after a wind farm company official told the landowner to “do what he wanted” with it.

He said the plan didn’t include a definitive number of turbines and he believes landowner lease payments leave property owners shortchanged.

“I really don’t think we can make a decision without that information,” Bair said.

Flaming said some of those details were covered during Monday’s presentation.

“I had some of the same concerns,” Flaming said. “They were addressed adequately.”

Flaming said he agreed with what Inlow said in her statement.

The planning commission’s decision is now subject to a 14-day protest period during which a protest petition could be filed with the county clerk’s office.

To be valid, the petition would need signatures of at least 20 percent of property owners within 1,000 feet of wind farm boundaries. If a property has multiple owners, all should sign. If fewer than all owners sign, only the percentage of the property owned by signers will be counted in determining the validity of the protest petition. Signers should identify the name of the record owner and the property.

Opponents earlier filed a petition seeking a restraining order against Expedition Wind beginning construction. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in Geary County District Court.

Last modified June 13, 2019

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