ERIE — The chair of the Neosho County Commission addressed her fellow commissioners, critics of a proposed wind project and its developer in comments at Tuesday’s meeting.
Gail Klaassen said she has been told people are drawing up papers to file suit over the planned Neosho Ridge Wind project, a development to generate 300 megawatts of electricity in the southwest portion of the county. She told residents there the county has signed agreements and she will stand by them.
She also asked people to send her information from primary sources instead of social media. She asked Commissioner David Orr not to use her name, picture or video on social media and asked he take down a site since it is not an official county site.
Klaassen also asked Commissioner Paul Westhoff that, when members of his family feel passionate about an issue, they send email through him to relay to her.
She told representatives of Apex Clean Energy, the Neosho Ridge project developer, she expects them to treat county assets and people with care and respect.
The commission heard from several critics of the project, including one that objected to being referred to as an opponent.
“That’s not what we are,” Doug Reed said. He said they are proponents of a guarantee to reimburse any loss in property value and of safety regulations. Reed said others are opponents of those things.
Julie Johnson asked when information would be released and said county officials have been advised not to be open. “Why aren’t the citizens allowed to know what is going on?” she asked. “Are you and Apex afraid of the truth?”
She urged them to attend an upcoming seminar on the Kansas Open Meeting Act, which Klaassen said they are already signed up to attend.
Denise Houghton said she wanted information but Apex’s office in Erie was closed. She said she wouldn’t make an appointment if she had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Some of her requests involved infrasound, and the Apex reps suggested a researcher that she rejected.
“I guess I don’t want to hear that from you,” she said.
LeRoy Burk asked commissioners if Apex was putting lines near his property because he has seen purple and yellow flags near it. County officials were not aware of anything.
“Maybe you guys ought to find out what’s going on,” Burk said.
Reed asked that a map of the windmill locations be in the court clerk’s office, although Klaassen said at this point nothing is final.
“How could you sign something and not know where anything’s going to be?” Burk’s wife, Sheryl, asked.
The Kansas One-Call is a service that notifies utilities to mark underground lines when it receives calls about upcoming excavation. Yellow flags indicate gas, oil, steam or petroleum lines, and purple indicates reclaimed water, irrigation or slurry lines are present.
Dale Jeffrey asked about the terms of a road-use agreement.
“Have you given away my ditch?” he asked. Jeffrey said the road is between the ditches, he mows the ditch and pays taxes to the center of the road, but county counselor Seth Jones said the county has right-of-way beyond the road itself.
“You either did or you didn’t,” Jeffrey said. “So you gave away my ditch.”
“You’re lucky I said darn, is all I can say,” he said.
After the public commentary, during discussion about the wind project, Jones said the county is contractually obligated to Apex.
“You obviously are working for them,” Jeffrey said.
One speaker, who said he has friends on both sides, expressed concerns over the level of tension. He said there is a solid basis for concerns and asked both sides to honor each other. He said he has seen a lot of shortcuts taken and bases not being covered.
Klaassen said there are misunderstandings about consideration of a possible moratorium. She said the proposal would regulate future wind projects.
“We’re not talking about zoning the county,” she said.
She said a different company has signed leases on property near Stark, but there has not been recent activity and it does not seem as if anyone else is pursuing another project.
Jones said the moratorium would not affect the current Apex project but the county could explore options including zoning.
One person said the proposal seemed to suggest building a better fence after the cows were out.
“District Two would welcome a wind farm,” Orr said.
“The majority of us didn’t,” Sheryl Burk said.
The commission approved a resolution to set up a home rule fund outside of the county general fund for payments from Neosho Ridge in lieu of taxes.
Klaassen also quizzed the Apex representatives about an unofficial timeline. Apex is due to reimburse attorney fees after the next commission meeting.
Agreements also call for Apex to survey roads 14 days before construction begins and submit a transportation plan 30 days before construction. Neither has been finalized, but when they are, a map will be made public.
The first payment in lieu of taxes will be 45 days after a construction agreement but the second one will be on May 10 the year after final completion. Construction should take six to nine months, and Klaassen said the situation is now in a wait-and-see period.
In other business, the commission heard from James Brown and his wife, Debra, about roads in need of repair and mowing that needs to be done. Raymond Jobe asked about brush cutting.
The commission passed a resolution setting aside funds from River Rock, an oil and gas firm that took over leases from the bankrupt PostRock. River Rock is protesting its property taxes for three years and paid $56,434 in 2016, $77,907 in 2017 and $52,183 in 2018.
Commissioners are preparing for the upcoming budget and will hold a day-long work session July 18. The commission moved its meeting to Tuesday from July 4 due to the holiday, and its next regular meeting will be July 25.
The work session July 18 will begin at 9 a.m. and each department will be allotted 30 minutes to present its budget.
Klaassen said she wants to have a breakdown of county job positions and their salaries, without naming the employees, which Human Resources Director Christy Hofer said she is preparing. Westhoff also requested overtime figures for the past three years by department and employee.
Orr proposed having an independent audit of the budget. He said had he been in office last year he would not have approved the current budget, and Klaassen’s predecessor, David Bideau, voted against it.
“We need this thing cleaned up before we vote in a new budget,” Orr said. He said he did not want to get rid of current accountant Rodney Burns.
“This is the way things should be done,” Hofer commented.
Health Department Coordinator Teresa Starr presented her department’s budget Tuesday evening because she will not be available July 18. She requested the sanitarian position be taken out of her department, and it has not been funded.
The sanitarian position was moved to the Health Department in the past two years, and Jones said it is not uncommon for it to be there. Hofer said the position has been funded from maintenance and the Health Department was not charged.
Commissioners also discussed the half-day holiday for the annual Erie bean feed in connection with the Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunion. Last year the courthouse was closed and the Road and Bridge Department was off, and Klaassen said it is more fair for other departments to have the time off or holiday pay.
Commissioners scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Aug. 12 to canvass the results of the Erie City Council primary election, which will be Aug. 6.