ERIE — Concerned residents of southern Neosho County on Thursday evening wanted to get back to the basics of their argument against a proposed wind energy project — the setbacks.
Lori Whitworth said during a regular county commission meeting that people concerned about the potential Neosho Ridge Wind energy project are just seeking responsible siting of the over 139 turbines measuring more than 600 feet tall.
Whitworth said the county should require setbacks in a road-use agreement that would force Apex Clean Energy, the project’s developer, to build turbines far enough away from nonparticipating properties to allow people to continue enjoying and using their land, to negate a potential loss of property value, and to allow people to live in their homes without health effects.
“I feel like we keep trying to get pulled into things we don’t want to argue about,” Dustie Elsworth said.
Elsworth, who along with Whitworth was on the commission’s agenda, said his main concern is requiring Apex to build its turbines a minimum distance from lakes and wetlands so they don’t disturb fowl.
Elsworth said the commission should follow recommendations from Ducks Unlimited, the Parsons Audubon Society and the Parsons Lake Advisory Board that no turbines be placed in the areas of Lake Parsons, Neosho State Fishing Lake (Lake McKinley) and other wetlands.
Other residents also want what they believe are adequate setbacks from their properties.
“The setbacks are really what the meat of this whole argument has been,” Elsworth said.
Elsworth said there has been talk of setbacks of 1,025 feet even though Apex officials have said the industry standard is 1,200 feet. The industry standard, he said, should be the minimum setback from properties not under an Apex lease.
“I feel like them throwing out 1,025 feet is definitely a slap in the face,” Elsworth said.
Elsworth said the setbacks nonparticipating property owners want are based on a lot of research.
“The setbacks that we have suggested, we don’t feel are too elaborate or go to the extreme,” he said.
Elsworth said the proposed turbine manufacturer has said it will set out safety protocols. If those protocols call for a 1,400-foot setback, he said, that should be the minimum setback for non-leased properties. Elsworth also said the county should study shadow flicker and noise maps provided by Apex before a decision is made.
He asked the commissioners to show the residents the same thoughtfulness and respect that they show Apex.
One reason setbacks are important to property owners is the population density of the wind farm footprint.
Whitworth said a wind energy development in Reno County covers 61 square miles with 183 homes. Another in Pratt County lies in 88.2 square miles with 85 homes. Neosho Ridge would cover 88.9 square miles with about 400 homes, she said. Developers of the other two projects have agreed to setbacks of 2,000 and 2,500 feet.
Whitworth said Nemeha County has many restrictions and regulations built into its road-use agreement with a wind energy firm. The agreement covers setbacks, decommissioning costs of turbines and guaranteed payments for 30 years in lieu of possible tax abatements. She urged the commissioners to use the agreement as a model.
Thursday’s meeting was the first for new Commissioner David Orr, who was appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly to fill his ex-wife, Jennifer Orr’s, unexpired term. Orr resigned because she said wind farm opponents were harassing her.
Whitworth wanted to know if David Orr would have access to all of the documents she and others had given to the commission and how he would get up to date on the Neosho Ridge issue. Orr said he has all the documents Jennifer Orr had and has attended most of the commission meetings and public forums on the issue in the last several months.
Orr also said he had received 180 emails since being named commissioner this week. Some were congratulations from friends, but many dealt with the wind energy project. He said he’s received information supporting both sides of the issue and the information was coming at him “awful fast.”
“I just need time,” Orr said.
Besides a road-use agreement, Apex may face another hurdle.
County Appraiser Bob McElroy told commissioners the Kansas Division of Water Resources told him this week that Apex would have to get permits for placement of the turbines to ensure they are out of the flood plain.
Commissioner Paul Westhoff told McElroy in the hallway later that the flood plain issue could make or break the project and the two discussed a turbine placement map. McElroy said he hasn’t received a preliminary map from Apex, but when he does, his office can get started on determining which proposed turbine locations are located in flood plains.
During the public comment time at Thursday’s meeting, Larry Yockey discussed his health concerns regarding the wind energy project.
Yockey has gone through chemotherapy, which has caused a condition that he said brings on the worst pain a person can endure. Yockey, who lives near Neosho State Fishing Lake, said he’s concerned the turbines, if built too close to his house, would trigger the pain.
“I don’t know if I can stand to be around these,” Yockey said.
He and his wife have lived at their home since 1985, long before Apex came around, Yockey said.
“My wife and I pounded every nail in that house,” he said.
Apex representatives were on Thursday’s agenda but didn’t attend the meeting.
One supporter of the project who was wearing an Apex hat quoted information from an ad placed by the firm in The Chanute Tribune that detailed the many new jobs created by the wind energy industry in Kansas.
Several other people wore Apex hats to the meeting as well, but no one else spoke on the issue.