GREG LOWER

ERIE – The Neosho County Commission chair said Thursday evening that she would not vote on a moratorium on future wind power development.

The commission discussed drafts of a moratorium resolution at last week’s meeting, but this week District 3 Commissioner Gail Klaassen said it would be best not to sign one.

“Not that we won’t look at this in the future,” she said.

Later at Thursday’s meeting, District One Commissioner Paul Westhoff brought up the moratorium, saying he knew he would not get a second but he felt it was important to protect the county and taxpayers.

Klaassen said she devoted a lot of thought to the issue during the past week.

“When I started the conversation, there was no lawsuit,” she said.

Several residents of southwest Neosho County have filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the planned Neosho Ridge Wind project in that area, and opponents have sought a moratorium against future possible projects or expansion of the current approved project.

The Neosho Ridge Wind project will construct 139 windmills to generate 300 megawatts of electricity. Klaassen said it is possible that opponents might also file a lawsuit against the county. The current lawsuit only names Neosho Ridge Wind.

The Neosho Ridge developer, Apex Clean Energy, has filed leases up until July for the four townships where the current project is located. Another developer, Boulevard Associates, filed leases prior to April 2017 in the eastern half of two townships in the northeast part of the county.

Klaassen said no one is pursuing further wind projects in the county, but officials will watch carefully.

“We need to keep tabs on them,” Westhoff said.

County Appraiser Bob McElroy said he received a request Thursday from LS Power Development LLC, a Chesterfield, Mo., company, for information on all property owners in the county.

The company mainly develops transmission lines, but also establishes electrical generation from gas, coal, wind and solar, McElroy said. He speculated the information is for transmission lines from Empire Electric to Neosho Ridge generators, although the request was for the entire county instead of just that area.

Such information would be public record and cannot be used for solicitation.

“A moratorium can always be signed overnight,” Klaassen said.

Commissioners also voted to accept a contract for services for the firm Kirkham Michael of Elsworth to provide engineering oversight on the Neosho Ridge Wind project.

Before approving the contract, Commissioner David Orr questioned how the county advertised for bids on the contract. Engineer Tanner Yost previously made a presentation to the commission for the firm, which was the only one to submit an offer. Two other firms were also supposed to be contacted, including Cook Flatt and Strobel from Topeka, which the county uses frequently on other projects.

County Clerk Randal Neely said the request was published as a legal advertisement, but Orr said Cook Flatt and Strobel was not notified.

Orr said Cook Flatt and Strobel has experience with wind projects, although he conceded Kirkham Michael has more.

“We feel more comfortable with them,” said project critic Julie Johnson, who is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Apex is going to pay for it, so what difference does it make? I would rather have the experienced person,”

In other business, the commission discussed delegating the duties of former Human Resources Director Christy Hofer.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to terminate Hofer at last week’s meeting, with Orr opposed. On Thursday, the commission voted to have the Iola firm Advantage Computer Concepts take over Hofer’s information technology duties until a new HR director is hired. The company will also handle email while Emergency Management Director Melanie Kent-Culp will handle the county’s website home page. Department heads will manage their own pages on the site, and the commission will handle courthouse maintenance. Klaassen and County Counselor Seth Jones will act as Equal Employment Opportunity officers.

Neely showed an advertisement for the position from November 2017, and commissioners will discuss outside posting at their next meeting.

The commission discussed keys and access to personnel records, and voted to ask that all keys to that office be surrendered to County Counselor Seth Jones.

Commissioners voted to waive penalties and reinstate property owner Mark Volz in the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Volz’s house was destroyed in a fire Jan. 13, 2017. He has replaced the house, and received notice that taxes were reduced. But he received notice more recently that he owed delinquent taxes. Volz said the issue was a malfunction of paperwork. Orr said he believed Volz did what he thought was right, and the taxes are now paid in full.

The commissioners also met in executive session to discuss pay increases for non-elected personnel, and were scheduled to have a budget workshop Thursday evening with accountant Rodney Burns.

 

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