Permit granted for wind farm despite protest

About 300 people attended the first of three nights of meetings regarding the wind farm project. Patty Decker / Free Press
About 300 people attended the first of three nights of meetings regarding the wind farm project. Patty Decker / Free Press
The Marion County Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Appeals recommended a conditional use permit in the south-central part of the county for Wind Expedition-National Renewable Solutions, but with many opposing the permit.

In the three-day hearing, which was June 3, 4, and 10, more than 60 people spoke, and of those 26 were in favor of the CUP with more than 35 opposing the project.

The vote was 4-2 in favor with one abstention and one absent. Those in favor included Dwight Flaming, Glenn Thiessen, Derek Belton and Jim Schmidt. Opposing the recommendation were Duane Bair and William Kroupa. Brad Vannocker recused himself and Kathy Inlow was absent.

Even though the planning commission recommended approval, the Marion County Commission is the final authority in approving the project.

Before approving the CUP application, one condition was to replace “licensed and qualified professional engineer,” with “licensed professional land surveyor.”

In addition, the planning commission recommended the development plan for the five existing CUPs, but with the condition that an additional CUP be provided to complete the area required for the wind turbine project facility. This sixth CUP would be specifically for transmission lines, according to Pat Pelstring, CEO of Wind Expedition.

Following a resolution by the county commissioners, Wind Expedition has 30 days to provide drafts for a decommissioning agreement, a road maintenance agreement, have agreement and monetary security to mitigate interference with 911 emergency radio systems, AM/FM radio systems, communication towers and radar systems to include Doppler Radar, according to the recommendation.

The development plan also must contain wind turbine setbacks for roads, property lines, non-participating residential and residential structures, placement of transmission lines, a current FAA determination, and other lighting requirements, the recommendation stated.

Those approving a recommendation for the development plan was 5-1, and included D. Flaming, Thiessen, Belton, Bair and Schmidt, with Kroupa opposing, Vannocker abstaining and Inlow absent.

Within the CUP recommendation, a fire mitigation plan is needed, reasonable measures need to be taken for shadow flicker, reflecting and bland glint affecting occupied residences existing on the date of the resolution.

In the event the WECS project contains riparian watershed areas, native prairie grasses or other sensitive areas, according to the CUP recommendation, the owner of the turbines will need to identify that information to the administrator. In addition, no clearing will be permitted within 125 feet from the centerline of any drainage.

The application also stated that prior to obtaining a turbine building permit, an overview of the existing environmental issues with respect to wildlife habitat, bird migration and the potential for bird strikes, flora-vegetation species, threatened species (officially listed), critical habitat and habitat assessment for the above needs to be documented with the administrator.

Other conditions include an indemnification agreement with the county, which may elect to include a general liability insurance with policy limits reasonably satisfactory to the commissioners, the CUP recommendation stated.

Some of those in favor of the recommendation were landowners in the footprint, and those opposing the project also had land in the footprint, but were not in favor of the wind project because of real estate loss between 25 to 40 percent, loss of wildlife, historical sites or problems with the wind turbines and the impact of noise and shadow flickers to landowners near the turbine locations.

The six-page document recommending approval of the CUP is available in the Marion County Planning and Zoning Department at 203 S. Third St., Marion.

Although many more people spoke, the following is a sampling of those on both sides of the issue.

James Olsen of Peabody, who owns land in the footprint, said the wind turbine project is change, but said this change is an opportunity that will bring jobs, additional revenue and money into the county coffers.

Lisa Hoffman, who owns land in Marion County, spoke about having 110 bird species on her land. Among those she showed pictures of wild turkeys, Meadowlarks, bluebirds, Carolina wrens and Baltimore Orioles, adding that all the birds on her property are an indicator of environmental health.

“The greater the diversity the greater the environmental health,” she said. “The wind turbines would impact sites like bald eagles, warblers…”

Janice Waner said she lives nine miles south of Marion in the proposed wind farm project.

Not only landowners will benefit, she said, but also schools, counties, cities, hospitals and businesses.

Warren Slocum said he lives in Manhattan, but for 72 years lived on a farm in the footprint.

“This will be a great help with the low commodity prices. Wind energy has been around for many years,” he said. “We believe now is the time to take advantage of the renewable energy resources in this county.”

Lori Peter said she lives in the footprint near Aulne, or did until the map was reworked.

One concern, she said, is the health issues, setbacks, noise levels and the downward trend of real estate affected by the wind turbines.

“Norma Schmidt lives in North Ontario,” Peter said. Schmidt had plenty of (health) issues living near six wind turbines with one 1,450 feet from her home, she added. As her health medical conditions continued, she was forced to leave her home and move in with her daughter.

“As for the boundary lines, it is said that the setback is 2,000 feet at its minimum from the turbine to property line. We have a narrow and long 10 acres measuring 400-feet to 900-feet and our house is in the center from east to west,” she said. “I want to enjoy the full 10 acres of my house.”

Matt Spencer of Florence said he has land in the southern part of the footprint. “Wind is a viable, renewable, clean resource,” he said, “that we should use.”

Stan Watchous of Gardner, said his family has owned cattle grazing land just shortly after the civil war.

“My family’s concern is cattle grazing and how much destruction will these turbine cause? How deep will the foundations go? I have heard 30-feet deep, and what will become of the (entire) foundation (when the turbine is decommissioned)?” he asked.

“And, what will be the damage to the land when access to the land is granted for (getting) to the turbines?”

Darla Spencer of Florence said: Change is hard, and it is OK to disagree, and disagreements should make us better friends.”

During a youth group trip, the sixth to twelfth-grade students said they were impressed by the turbines.

Brian Stuckey, who lives in Goessel, asked questions regarding if the wind turbine group contacted the Kansas Historical Society. In addition, he spoke about archeological sites in the area, and if the Wind Expedition people have considered working with the KHS.

“Consider the jobs these wind turbines will bring in, and the young people it will bring to my town,” he said. “The wind turbines are the future of my children and grandchildren. Thank God for wind turbines.”

Mark Pankratz of Hillsboro said at one time he was in favor of wind turbines until Wind Expedition plans to build 500-foot towers.

“It’s obvious the wind turbine people had a lot of influence on Article 27,” he said. “Article 27 overrules all other zoning, and I have never heard of that.”

At the end of the project or usefulness how long can they wait to remove them or can they be taken down when a wind turbine is no longer useful, he asked.

“I just hope the planning and zoning commission makes a good decision, and I hope they table this until we have all the information,” he said.