Wind farm permit approved, not development plan

About 50 people attended the Marion County Commission meeting on July 8 to hear how the commissioners vote on the wind farm project. The commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of approving the conditional use permit proposed by Expedition Wind. The development plan, which was split out from the CUP, was not approved at this time. Patty Decker/Free Press
About 50 people attended the Marion County Commission meeting on July 8 to hear how the commissioners vote on the wind farm project. The commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of approving the conditional use permit proposed by Expedition Wind. The development plan, which was split out from the CUP, was not approved at this time. Patty Decker/Free Press
The Marion County Commission approved a conditional use permit, but not Expedition Wind’s development plan for the proposed wind farm project in the south-central part of the county on July 8.

With nearly 50 onlookers in attendance, the only change in the CUP from the planning commission’s recommendation was the addition of a two-mile setback from the city limits of Peabody.

After adding that language, the vote to approve the CUP was 2-1 in favor, with commissioner Dianne Novak casting the dissenting vote.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said the decision to approve this CUP wasn’t easy.

“I spent two nights listening to the public (during the planning commission hearing), and one night listening to the commission,” he said. “It was a tougher decision because this is a more populated area.”

Dallke said he was surprised that nobody attending the hearings in early June, asked about setbacks for the city of Peabody.

Commissioner Dianne Novak said she didn’t see a plan for hazardous materials, and the fact-finding report from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism was a 1988 study.

Historical sites were another area Novak said should be included in the plan and how old cemeteries and other locations will be preserved and protected.

“These are culturally significant sites in our state,” she said.

Another issue Novak brought up was the placement of transformers and how there should be a conceptual site map where the turbines are.

During public comment, Mark Pankratz of Hillsboro, said he questioned whether it was legal to deny the protest petition because of the way property owners were counted and represented.

“There are two completely different ways to calculate (the petition),” he said.

One of those ways would be to give each landowner one vote for each property within the 1,000-foot (buffer).

“That’s the way it worked in all the planning and zoning departments I worked in,” Pankratz said.

The second way to calculate is by total real property or by the number of acres a landowner has within the area required to be notified by this act of the proposed rezoning of specific property, he said.

“Depending on which method used, the outcome would be completely different,” he said. “If one landowner has one acre of land for a house, they would get one vote,” Pankratz explained.

“If another landowner has 160 acres, or a quarter section, they would get 160 votes even if they didn’t live on that land.”

Novak also questioned the methodology used in the protest petition.

One of the issues she brought up was the extensive buffers that make up the wind farm footprint.

Novak questioned the purpose of the large areas of land in the footprint and the inconsistency of the buffers, which are in Reno County’s wind farm project.

In areas of the proposed wind farm project, the buffer areas serve in eliminating or reducing land available under protest, said Russ Ewy, a consultant for the county’s planning and zoning department.

On the flip-side, Ewy said, although buffers protect against protest petitions, they also create a protective buffer citing solid waste landfills as one example.

Becker said to Novak that he appreciated all the effort and questions she brought forward on this project.

Even though the CUP was approved, Pat Hughes, the county’s wind farm attorney, said Expedition Wind and Natural Renewable Solutions (in charge of managing and developing the wind farm), can’t move forward with construction until all agreements are in place.

“They can’t proceed with development until the transmission line issue is settled,” Hughes said.

A window exists between approving the CUP, and the time prior to commencing with construction. It will be during that time the commission and NRS will need to come to terms with the ancillary agreements.

Those agreements include a road maintenance agreement, a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, decommissioning agreement and the issue of transmission lines in the development plan, which was raised by commission chairman Kent Becker.

Prior to the vote, Sharon Omstead, director of the Planning and Zoning department, reviewed the CUP and development plan.

One of the areas Omstead discussed was the noise level and how it be no higher than 50 A-weighted decibels during and after construction, noting the turbines are designed and modeled for that level.

Hughes also said the way it’s structured, the other agreements come after the CUP is approved because if it’s not approved there’s no point in having those agreements.

Regarding some agreements between the commission and Expedition Wind-NRS as the process continues moving forward will be held in executive session.

The commission also heard updates from Brice Goebel, the engineer with road and bridge department, Isaac Hett, Marion County Park and Lake superintendent and Lisa Reeder, county appraiser.

Gobble spoke briefly about the flooding and the effects of those flood waters on some of the small businesses in the county.