Commissioners grant permit for wind-farm proposal

Marion County commissioners approved Windborn Energy Inc. for a conditional-use permit Monday to operate a wind turbine farm on about 14,000 acres of the Doyle Creek area in the southern part of the county.

The action clears the way for Windborn, representing landowners who have committed to leasing ground for turbines, to seek a contractor to actually build, maintain and sell power from the farm.

Rex Savage, who led the nearly decade-long effort to establish the farm on behalf of himself and his neighbors, said the area is well located for the development because of existing cross-country power lines there.

The approved area is roughly bordered west of Union Road, south of 130th Street, east of Old Mill Road and north of 110th Street.

The Marion County Planning and Zoning Commission, led by director Tonya Richards, had approved the conditional-use permit prior to the county commission meeting. It also outlined a large ?overlay? area that possibly could be affected.

About 35 persons crowded the commission room to speak to the issue and, in the end, listen to Commission Chairman Randy Dallke recommend the permit himself because, he said, it was in his area of representation.

Commissioner Bob Hein seconded the motion, saying he ?had every confidence? that the planning commission had done its work in researching the issues before approving the wind farm.

?I don?t see anything wrong in following the commission?s recommendation,? Hein said.

Commissioner Dan Holub said a wind farm could be of high economic benefit to the county, although he also wanted the commission to go on record saying it favored conservation efforts for maintaining prairie chickens.

He felt that concern had been adequately addressed, although some opponents to the project protested on behalf of preserving the birds.

Those in favor of the permit noted that the landowners represented in the proposal are experienced business people who have dealt with other kinds of leases, such as for oil and gas or for grazing cattle.

Savage said if the permit hadn?t been approved, he doubted a wind farm ever would have been approved for Marion County.

David Mueller, chairman of the planning and zoning commission, said the commission?s 8-to-1 vote for approval came after many hours of reviewing the law and Windborn?s plans.

He said Windborn had conducted its application to the letter of the law, and that during the time for verbal and written comments, none had been unfavorable.

Mueller said the commission had considered Windborn?s responsibilities for contributions to normal county services such road construction, emergency services and fire and law support.

The majority of the group Monday seemed largely composed of landowners who had committed to wind turbine leasing.

Others expressed concerns. Joy Watchous, who said she owns a half-section of land, wanted to make sure it was understood that she hadn?t signed up for wind turbine leases, and didn?t want transmission lines near her property.

Savage assured her he was aware she hadn?t signed up, and that the lines already are in place far from her property.

Wichita attorney Angela Madathil expressed the same concerns for other members of the Watchous family.

Attorney Pat Hughes, who identified himself as representing members of the Sellers family at Florence, protested Windborn as being deleterious to survival of prairie chickens and other declining bird species in the prairie tallgrass region of the Flint Hills.

Savage contended the annual burning of pastures plays more of a part in the decline of the prairie chicken.

David Yearout of Yearbout Associates Inc., El Dorado, acting as consultant for the county on wind farms, advised the commissioners to keep all documentation and commentary during proceedings for use during future considerations.

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