OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners will allow the sheriff’s department to rack up extra overtime to provide security for the full-time courtroom in Oswego.
The sheriff’s department has limited overtime built into its budget, but the court change this week required Sheriff Darren Eichinger to pull in off-duty deputies to provide security in Oswego. Deputies are volunteering to work the overatime hours. Eichinger said the overtime will be 32 to 40 hours a week depending on Judge Fred W. Johnson’s court schedule. This week the overtime will be about 32 hours.
11th Judicial District Chief Judge Oliver Kent Lynch moved Judge Johnson from Parsons to Oswego this week to conduct his busy criminal and civil docket. Court generally takes place in Parsons at the Labette County Judicial Center, though judges hold court periodically in Oswego on the third floor of the courthouse. Magistrate Judge Samuel Marsh from Columbus also conducts traffic court in Oswego monthly.
Judge Lynch didn’t offer a reason for the move and court administrator Mac Young never responded to a Sun inquiry about it.
Eichinger has discussed hiring additional deputies to provide security in Oswego if the court change remains permanent. Parsons police and the Labette County Attorney’s Office will have to make adjustments as well for the additional travel to and from Oswego for Johnson’s docket and the prosecutor will have to arrange for witnesses or victims to travel to and from Oswego.
Commissioners met in closed session for 15 minutes and again for 40 minutes on Friday to discuss security related to the court change.
After the first closed session, Commissioner Doug Allen moved that the commission authorize Eichinger to spend overtime as necessary for courtroom security. He noted in his motion that the decision to change the court location was made by the presiding judge of the 11th District without consultation with the commission, which will have to pay the extra expenses associated with the move. Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the motion that may end with the sheriff exceeding his overtime budget.
Commissioners and the sheriff still do not know if this change is temporary or permanent. Commission Chairman Lonie Addis said the commission is still looking for “alternative plans to save taxpayer dollars because we’re not going to roll over and just play dead.
“We’re going to pay what’s necessary until we figure this thing out,” Addis said.
Road use near Neosho County
Public Works Director Sandy Krider and Assistant Director Ralph George also updated commissioners Friday on road use in Labette County related to the wind farm construction in Neosho County and construction of the Evergy switching station just north of the Labette County line.
Commissioners learned that semitractor trailers were traveling to and from Neosho County for the Neosho Ridge Wind project via Kiowa, Jackson, Gray and 26000 roads in Labette County. The trucks are hauling rock to the sites from Midwest Minerals in Cherryvale or returning from dumping their loads. Loaded semitractors are not allowed on these roads by county resolution and Krider showed commissioners pictures of rutted and potholed roads related to the heavy truck traffic.
Krider has been tracking down contractors working on Neosho Ridge Wind and the Evergy switching station between 10th and 20th Road in Neosho County to find out who was responsible and arrange for a different truck route that would not threaten Labette County roads and bridges.
She gave commissioners a call sheet of contractors and their contact information and their roles in the wind energy project. Law enforcement stopped the gravel trucks from traveling the roads last week and Krider wanted to find a bridge-free route for these trucks that would limit road damage. She wanted this route in place before concrete trucks start moving that way from O’Brien Ready Mix in Parsons.
Krider said Midwest contracted with Dunn’s Trucking to haul rock to the sites.
Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives Inc. has the contract to build the 139-turbine Neosho Ridge Wind in southwest Neosho County. The work on the Vestas turbines is expected to be done by late 2020, according to a company news release last year. IEA also will maintain certain public roads and turbine access roads and build the medium voltage collection system and the high voltage substation and transmission line that connects the project to the electrical grid. Evergy owns the switching station that transmits the electricity to the grid.
Apex Clean Energy was the original wind farm developer. Liberty Utilities-Empire District Electric owns it now, Krider said. A website on the Neosho Ridge project (neoshoridgewind.com) shows that Apex partnered with Liberty to develop and build the 300-megawatt wind farm. The site doesn't mention a sale.
Krider told commissioners that O’Brien wants a county-approved route to the work sites. Traveling north on U.S. 59 into Neosho County may not work for all of the work because of Lake Parsons. The concrete trucks should be a legal load for the county roads, commissioners and the Public Works directors said.
Krider and George thought Kiowa Road north of U.S. 400 into Neosho County would be a good road. It’s gravel from U.S. 400 to 26000 Road and then chip and seal road from 26000 to the Neosho County line, which is 27000 Road on the Labette County side and 10th Road on the Neosho County side. There are no bridges to cross on this section of Kiowa, commissioners heard.
Commissioner Fred Vail was still concerned about damage to the gravel portion of Kiowa.
“That gravel road’s going to be tore all to hell, probably. No matter whether it rains or it’s dry,” he said. When dry, gravel roads tend to be damaged from truck traffic, Vail and Krider said.
Krider suggested that County Counselor Brian Johnson draw up a road use agreement for O’Brien and other trucks that want to use Labette County roads to travel into Neosho County for the wind energy project.
Commissioner Allen asked Johnson if there was a way to structure an agreement to include a civil assessment per truckload that the county could collect to help repair the road. Johnson was going to look into that and the road use agreement.
Allen said regular wear and tear was the county’s responsibility. But this traffic goes above that.
“They can help us defray maintenance costs,” Allen said.
There was some concern about the 1-mile section of Kiowa Road that has the chip and seal surface on it. George didn’t think the concrete trucks would damage that section of road.
“It’s a good blacktop road. I think it has quite a bit of base under it. We don’t have much trouble with it at all,” George said.
Commissioners may review the matter on Monday.
“I think (this) will set a good precedent that we want to work with them, but this is how we do it,” Commissioner Vail said.
In other business, the commission:
— Approved the purchase of an HP ProBook laptop computer for the clerk’s office from Higher Calling Technologies for $707.25. The computer is replacing an older Windows 7 computer, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.
— Met in closed session to discuss non-elected personnel with Krider and George. After the session, commissioners agreed to take action on three Public Works employees. Brian Gatton was temporarily raised to a supervisory position and received a pay increase effective Friday. Mark Johnson was promoted to lead man on the bridge crew, a move made in anticipation of Rex Haraughty retiring later this month. Johnson also received a two-range bump in pay. Roman Goedeke was promoted as well to a leadman. If Krider and George are unavailable, Goedeke will be the person for commissioners to contact in the department. Goedeke will retain his current duties of hazmat, blacktop crew and sign department. He received a two-range increase in pay as well.
— Heard that a crane company asked for a permit to bring in a large crane for the TP&L wind farm staging area at Great Plains Industrial Park. Two of the loads will exceed road load limits and then 19 loads to follow will be within legal limits, Krider said. Commissioners agreed that the company could use Scott Road from U.S. 400 into the plant grounds for these loads. Scott Road is gravel from U.S. 400 to 24000 Road and then chip and seal road from 24000 Road into Great Plains.
— Heard that overhanging limbs have been cut back on the first mile of 19000 Road (the Big Hill Lake road) between Gray and Ford roads. Work has moved to 19000 Road between Elk and Ford. Crews are burning the limbs and sweeping up the roadway each afternoon before shutting down the operation for the day. The road is closed in the daytime hours as the crew moves west toward Anderson Road.