ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners backtracked Thursday evening on the issue of public comments and heard from a frequent critic of the Neosho Ridge Wind project.
After attending a seminar in Independence on open meetings and talking to other counties about how they conduct meetings, commissioners last week discussed removing public comments from the agenda. This week, Commission Chair Gail Klaassen had a copy of a resolution passed in 2010 that sets a public comment time. Although the discussion Thursday did not mention any time requirements, it left certain matters to the commission’s discretion – such as whether many of people on the same topic could be represented by one spokesperson.
Klaassen said she had not been aware of the resolution and would abide by it.
At previous meetings, the commission allotted a total of 30 minutes for people to speak for up to five minutes each. During a large majority of recent meetings, the time has been filled by people addressing the Neosho Ridge Wind project – and most of those have been unhappy with it.
The commission has also heard several times from critics who request to be on the regular agenda.
Kim Norris, who has addressed the commission seven times since January, spoke Thursday (scheduled on the agenda) and said there have been ill-mannered, disrespectful actions against the community and employees by commissioners. Although Klaassen said Norris would be the spokesperson on the wind issue, Norris said she was acting on her own and was not part of a group.
“I’m here asking questions, wanting to understand,” she said.
She questioned why the public commentary was suspended and attributed it to a lack of respect.
Klaassen said comments have not been beneficial and she thought a break would help. She also mentioned a lawsuit, brought by adjacent landowners seeking an injunction against the project.
Norris is not one of the 45 plaintiffs in the case, and said it is intricate and convoluted.
“You don’t know anything about infrasound,” she said, noting one of the many unsubstantiated claims made in the civil lawsuit against Neosho Ridge Wind.
When Commissioner David Orr mentioned the suit, Norris asked if the commission was a defendant and Orr said not yet. Later, County Counselor Seth Jones said concerns were well founded that saying too much was not a good idea.
Norris said free speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
“That’s a violation, not letting us,” she said.
She asked Klaassen how she could approve lengthy contracts, but also said the shorter resolution on a moratorium needed study.
“My question to you is, what is your problem?” Norris said. She suggested an outside entity gave Klaassen instructions.
Norris said a moratorium is necessary if the county is to protect against other wind farms. She said helicopters have flown over areas north of 146th Road and south of St. Paul, and land was in public record as being leased.
Klaassen said she felt people had lost interest in the moratorium.
“Seriously,” Ed Spielbusch said. Although not a plaintiff, Spielbusch is a contact person for those wishing to donate to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit fund.
Norris also asked if the county would set aside money to decommission the wind project.
There is a separate agreement, signed by commissioners and Apex Clean Energy, that outlines a decommissioning plan and guarantees funds for that purpose.
Orr objected to the question, and also said that Norris had posted on Facebook urging people to support a fundraising event for the plaintiffs.
“It’s not dead,” Norris said of the moratorium. “I’m scared to death they’re going to be in my neck of the woods.”
She also recommended the Tanner Yost engineering firm to oversee the project and advised against cronyism. She urged the commission to pick the most qualified and not necessarily the cheapest.
Later the commission discussed that issue, and Jones said Tanner Yost was the only firm to submit qualifications.
“We like transparency,” Norris said.
She told the commission they would either look back on this with great pride or great shame, and she felt it would be the latter.
“God bless us all,” she said.
Norris also told Orr he was not allowed to speak without permission from Klaassen, as commission chair.
Klaassen said construction began Aug. 1 on roads that will be used to bring in wind farm components, with work starting on 50th, 60th and 80th roads in the southeast portion of the project area.
Klaassen said the county should see the first payment of $1.5 million in lieu of taxes in 45 days. She said she has visited the Galesburg mayor about things he would like to see done with the funds, but it would be a while before a second PILOT is made.
LeRoy Burk, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, asked how the funds would be divided.
Of the $1.5 million first payment, $500,000 has not been designated and $800,000 will go to the road and bridge department. The sheriff’s department and the commission will each receive $100,000 to decide how to use.
Burk urged the commission to repair a bridge near his property at 8700 Gray Road.
“These aren’t ideas, this is facts,” Burk said.
• In other county business, the commission met with property owner Mark Volz about issues with his property taxes. Volz lost a house to fire Jan. 13, 2017, and later replaced it. He received notices that he said indicated he did not owe taxes, but recently received a letter saying he would be placed on the delinquent tax roll.
The commission tabled the matter for two weeks to let Jones go over paperwork.
• Director of 911, Lori Nally, received approval for someone to review medical protocols when the dispatchers give instructions before ambulances arrive. The commission also approved training requests by Nally and Appraiser Bob McElroy.