Commission debates about damaged roads

The Marion County Commission talked about road issues associated with the Diamond Vista wind turbine project at its meeting on Sept. 30.

But, by a unanimous vote, a possible solution was hammered out which would entail dividing the road project, drainage concerns and reclamation into phases.

Brice Goebel, county engineer, provided information on road maintenance issues in the northern part of the county and communication with Enel Green Power, owners of the Diamond Vista wind farm project.

EGP officials continue to say they are not responsible for roads discussed in a special meeting Sept. 20, Goebel said.

Tanner Yost, an engineer with Kirkham Michael, the company hired by the county, and paid for by EGP, to oversee roads impacted by the construction of the wind turbines, told Goebel that a May 18 plan was in place to continue maintenance of roads, but it’s not happening.

At the special meeting, Steve Williams of EGP, said he would provide a written timeline and schedule, adding that a more active line of communication was needed to close out the project.

“We still have no schedule,” Goebel said. “Two areas are in question: one 350th and Diamond and 340th east of Limestone has a steel plate going across the top of it. They installed it and have done nothing to fix it. Something needs to be done.”

Another issue, he said, involves Sharon Omstead, director of county planning and zoning, who needs to finalize plans for flood plains and all the drainage comes into play.

“Some of the areas where they went through terrace fields still need to be fixed,” he said. “Based on all this information, I am not sure what the commission wants to do.”

Goebel said he sees no uptick in things and is frustrated about the situation.

One option could be to pull the conditional use permit, which effectively would shut down the operations in that area.

“They are totally and absolutely not going to fix those roads,” said Commissioner Dianne Novak. “I am not in favor of any more pussy-footing around. They have no respect for the RMA or the county.”

Novak then asked Brad Jantz, county counselor, what he believes should happen next.

“It’s a tough call,” Jantz said. “It’s a policy decision.”

The question is how hard and quickly the commission wants to push, he added.

Commissioner Randy Dallke, asked Goebel about who is onsite with EGP.

Williams is overseeing the entire construction, and Jeff Pimer is the project manager, Goebel said. The individual onsite has only been there two to three weeks.

Another concern, Goebel said, is winter is coming.

Dallke suggested getting into a contractual agreement with EGP to pay another party to finish the road maintenance and other issues.

Commission chairman Kent Becker was advocating for a less severe solution by dividing the project into phases.

Jantz said this is a large area, and the idea of phases could be a solution.

“Right now, it’s all or nothing,” he said.

Leaning toward the idea of phases, the commission then discussed with each other and Goebel how to break up the project.

“Maybe we could have four or five areas, and some of the roads have a lot of issues and some don’t,” he said.

An amended RMA would need to be done because Jantz reiterated it is “all or nothing.’

In addition, the amended RMA would include consequences if the same problems continue.

“What would be the timeframe?” Novak asked.

Dallke said that if the timeframe isn’t met, EGP could also pay us instead.

By a unanimous vote, the commission directed Goebel to determine the number of phases, working with Jantz. The amended agreement would also include enforcement if this is not completed.

According to previous articles, EGP took ownership of the Diamond Vista wind farm project from Tradewinds Energy.

In the first part of 2017, Dallke said this would be the first wind farm project in the county, and more of a workload than should be expected from the road and bridge department.

The decision to hired Kirkham Michael was based on its experience with wind farms in southwest Kansas by doing pre- and post-inspections.

At that time, Yost explained that the pre-inspection involves driving the roads about 10 mph, with an inspector getting out every 10 to 12 miles.

“(The inspector) stops and takes pictures, and measures width of road and whether there is gravel on it,” he said.

KM documents the condition of the roads and stops at each of the hydraulic structures, bridges, and again the condition of those, he said.

One of the biggest concerns, Yost said, was the heavy traffic that can collapse certain areas.

“We also ask what the load rate is—bridges with wind-farm trucks? We then go to the developer and ask them to give us trucks with axle diagrams, and then look at rate of each structure with that truck,” he said.

At some point, the goal of the commission, EGP, and KM is to get to the post-inspection, and the hope is that “phases” will be the answer.

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