OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners on Monday set the advisory committee that will look into wind farm regulations and also gave the facilitator some direction on getting the group started.
The commission named the members to the wind farm study group by a series of resolutions. They are Sandy Krider, Labette County Public Works director; Rod Landrum, retired executive director of the Labette Health Foundation; Kevin King, a crop insurance agent who lives near Big Hill Lake; Mel Hass, who formerly lived within the footprint of a wind farm in DeKalb County, Illinois, before moving to Labette County; and Lori Whitworth, an attorney who formerly lived in Neosho County, where Apex Clean Energy is building a wind farm, and is familiar with wind energy.
Commission Chairman Doug Allen told Charlie Morse on Monday he was chosen as the facilitator because he did a good job recently of organizing the effort of a county solid waste committee in negotiating a new contract for operation of the trash transfer station. The new task should be easier to handle, Allen said. Morse, the county’s emergency preparedness director and sanitation officer, also oversees zoning in the Great Plains Industrial Park, and Allen thought that might be helpful to the wind farm panel.
Allen said because most of the board members are citizens and not county officials, they possibly could be busy, so he wants Morse to at least get the committee up and running.
“We figure if we didn’t have someone to get the ball rolling, it might take some time,” Allen said.
Allen said it also helps that Morse is familiar with zoning issues, although the rest of the county outside the industrial park is not zoned, and commissioners don’t plan to zone it.
RWE, a German utility company, has begun investigating the possibility of developing a wind farm in the western half of the county. The development, if it moves forward, would be a couple of years in the future, but commissioners want to be prepared and know the issues before then. Commissioners implemented a one-year moratorium on wind farm construction, until November 2020, while the study group meets and makes recommendations to commissioners.
Commissioner Lonie Addis told Morse that the commissioners want the group to make recommendations about how the county can be protected from any negative aspects of a wind farm through all stages, from planning to decommissioning.
Allen gave Morse some guidelines for the group. The group should meet at least once a month, and Morse will report to the commission after each meeting. The group will be tasked with studying the following:
— Possible setbacks from residences, roads and property lines.
— Ecological impacts on wildlife.
— Overall economic impact to the county.
— Decommissioning issues at the end of life of turbines.
— Impact on county infrastructure.
— Direct payments to governmental entities and how those are structured.
— Liability issues for landowners and turbine companies in the event of failure.
— Security, fire and noise issues.
— Public hearings to gain citizen input.
The board members will be sworn in by County Clerk Gena Landis, and County Counselor Brian Johnson will instruct them about the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
The board’s meetings will be open to the public, but Addis told Morse that the board doesn’t have to listen to comments from the public. The board can listen to the public at the chairperson’s discretion, but it would be hard to get work done if it had to deal with a hostile audience, Addis said. Comments could lead to arguments that could result in “a lot of wheel spinning going on,” Allen said.
Addis said Morse could be the de facto chairman at the first meeting and until another chairperson is chosen.
Allen told Morse to let the group know that the commission does not want to influence it in any way and that they should make decisions based on what’s best for the county.
“We want them to work independently of us. We’re not trying to guide them or direct them,” Allen said.
The county commission will have final say on all matters pertaining to the wind farm as the study group is only an advisory board.
The group will need to prepare a final report for the commission at least 15 days prior to the end of the construction moratorium.
The group’s guidelines also mention the possibility of the wind energy company paying for training of sheriff’s deputies to measure the decibel level of turbines and also to possibly pay for decibel meters.