Letter to the Editor (8-7-19)

Wind farm regulations need another look

If any of you are following the goings-on at the Commissioner’s meetings, you are well aware there is yet another wind farm being considered in Marion County. What you may not be aware of is; that this probably won’t be the last.

Our elected officials on the Board of County Commissioners as well as the appointed members of the Planning & Zoning Commission have forgotten, overlooked and abandoned the Marion County Zoning Regulation, specifically Article 1, and the ” do no harm” principle of land ownership.

Through the request and direction of Tradewinds LLC, the Diamond Vista Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) Developer and the urging of Windborne Energy INC, the entire unincorporated portion of Marion County is now ripe for wind development.

What does this mean for residents of Marion County? In short, the county used its quasi-legislative powers to move the Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) Overlay District from a rough 10×10 mile section in the southeast corner of the county to the entire county-minus the towns. This act added more restrictive regulations to every piece of property within the county, removed citizen protections, and gave WECS developers the ability to build from county border to county border.

What is a WECS Overlay district? How did this happen? Why? These questions, among others, have repeatedly gone unanswered by 2/3rd of the current board of commissioners as they chase that elusive all-mighty dollar so readily promised by these developers.

An Overlay District is a regulatory tool that creates special zoning, placed over existing zoning. This special zoning adds restrictions to the current plan. It is used to preserve, protect, or otherwise add zoning that would not be applicable in the specific location. Most often you will find this used for Historic Districts within cities.The only protection this WECS Overlay gives are to the project developer. It preserves and protects the unobstructed wind flow for the project developer.

Counties create and implement regulations, known as Articles, for protection and order. Based on these regulations, it is the Planning and Zoning commission and the Board of County Commissioners who claim the authority to tell you what you can and can not do on your property. These regulations are built to protect the citizens of the county from dangers both natural and human-made.

The Purpose and Intent: Article 1-101, reads in part as follows:

• To promote the health, safety, morals, comfort, and general welfare of the citizens of Marion County, Kansas.

• To conserve prime agricultural land and protect it from the intrusion of incompatible used, but not to regulate or restrict the primary use of land for agriculture purposes.

• To provide adequate light and air, and acceptable noise levels

• To provide adequate notice on subsequent changes to these regulations and an opportunity for interested parties to be heard.

• To inform the public regarding future development in Marion County, Kansas, thereby providing a basis for wise decisions with respect to such development.

The authors of these first Article conditions recognized the need to not only protect but also inform the citizens of the county and include them in the procedures to develop these regulations.

Created in December of 2004, the WECS regulations, while not perfect, were a good start. The regulation weighed heavily on the protections for residents by creating several submittal conditions which a potential Developer would have to meet. There was no implied right to be approved.

In 2004, the WECS regulations, then referred to as Article 31, read in part as follows:

31-101 Purpose and intent: The purpose of the Overlay District is to ensure a regulatory means of facilitation wind energy development by protecting the WECS Developer’s interest in unobstructed wind flow, and at the same time provide a regulatory response to the demands of neighbors and the general public whose interests may be detrimentally affected by wind turbine operation. …

In recent years, however, the Board of County Commissioners and Planning & Zoning Commission, along with WECS developers Windborne INC, and Tradewinds LLC made it their responsibility to systematically strip this regulation of all the public protections it contained, streamlined the application process, and protect only the wants and needs of the WECS developer involved. The Board of Commissioners has inflicted irreparable harm to the citizens of Marion County by implementing additional, more stringent regulations upon all property in unincorporated Marion County, Kansas.

Article 27, Wind Energy Conversion System ( WECS) Overlay District Regulations most recent version from 2018, 27-101 Purpose and Intent, reads in part as follows:

The purpose of the Overlay District is to ensure a regulatory means of facilitating wind energy development of a commercial Wind Energy Conversion System within the unincorporated portion of Marion County by Protecting the WECS Developer’s interest in unobstructed wind flow; and at the same time provide reasonable requirements for submittal of proposals for the establishment of a WECS to provide adequate information to the officials of Marion County charged with the responsibility to review said proposals.

TO the extent there are conflicts between the requirements of this Article 27 and other provisions of the Marion County Zoning Regulations, it is intended that the purpose of this Article 27 shall control the interpretation of the Zoning Regulations.

What is next? Recent comments by members of the BOCC about interests in a moratorium to investigate the future of wind energy in the county comes too late. Can we rely on these elected and appointed officials to do their duty to adjust these regulations and put the residents of the county back where they belong- First and foremost?

If one looks to the American Wind Energy Assoc (AWEA) for answers, the NEW Wind is a hybrid wind/solar project. And all of these currently signed leases have a clause ” first rights to solar”. … This county has NO regulations for solar.

Mary Crabb

Marion

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