GREG LOWER

ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners debated ways to distribute a wind farm windfall to Thayer and Galesburg.

As part of a road use agreement, developer Apex Clean Energy will provide Payments in Lieu of Taxes that would be created by the Neosho Ridge Wind electric-generation project in the southwest part of the county during the time the project is tax-exempt. Commissioners want some of the funds to benefit the two towns that are within the approximate area of leased and non-participating properties roughly described as the “footprint.”

Representatives of rural fire departments have asked for support, and Commissioner Gail Klaassen has offered $80,000, an amount provided by other wind farms to nearby communities. Commissioner David Orr said he wants Thayer and Galesburg to be treated equally.

The distribution discussion was on the agenda as a work session with no formal action.

Commissioner Paul Westhoff said he wanted fire departments to receive funding, since they would have to fight fires on the generators 600 feet in the air, the approximate height when the windmill blade is at its top point.

Southern rural resident LeRoy Burk said Apex was supposed to make payments to the communities.

“Robin Hood is taking away from us to give to the cities,” he said.

But commissioners said the company is not able to make payments directly and the funds would go through the county. The decision on where funds are allocated is up to commissioners.

Klaassen said she has talked to Galesburg Mayor Adam Tromsness and the community will hold a town hall meeting next month to discuss its needs.

“They’re still talking as a community,” she said, noting that Galesburg has paved streets, but no funding for repairs.

Orr suggested the funds might be used as a match for grant applications.

Providing PILOT funds to the area school districts is complicated, Klaassen said, because the Thayer and St. Paul school districts extend outside of the county line to Cherryvale (Montgomery County) and Chetopa (Labette County).

“It should be about the children,” Orr said. “It should not be about where they go.”

Rural school board member William Cook said since the PILOT funds are considered a gift, they would not cause a reduction in other funding. Once the exemption expires, the tax base would be increased.

Since the Neosho Ridge Wind project is tax exempt, he said the school districts will not be able to benefit until the exemption expires. Klaassen said she would prefer the funds go to specific projects in the district to benefit the county children, rather than to the districts as a whole.

 

Road concerns, again

Commissioners also discussed hiring a road inspector to monitor the routes Apex is using in the construction area.

Orr expressed dissatisfaction with the engineering firm Kirkham-Michael, which the county hired to help monitor the construction process.

County resident Dusty Elsworth said Apex is not doing road maintenance, specifically on 80th Road, and engineers have not documented the impact on the ditch system. He said he reviewed the road use agreement and the county has no authority to fine Apex.

“There’s nothing that we can do to enforce them to do anything,” Elsworth said, adding that the county can either pull the RUA or take Apex to court.

“The county has no teeth,” he said.

Orr said no engineers have provided anything to the commission that says Apex is out of compliance or in violation.

Apex representative Jason Martinson said some work mentioned in a report by the engineering firm Olson has not been completed due to weather. Elsworth said the agreement has no set dates, and contradicted Martinson on whether the second of two culvert projects was done.

“What he’s saying is 100 percent false,” Elsworth said.

Elsworth is one of nearly three dozen plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that seeks to block the Neosho Ridge project. Elsworth said the project is coming, and the important thing is to hold Apex to its agreement.

Orr said he would like to see the county go back to its previous engineering firm Cook, Flatt and Stroble and possibly hire Elsworth as road inspector.

Other county business:

• 911 Director Lori Nally asked the commission about charging fees to provide copies of 911 recordings to outside agencies. She said attorneys have requested copies for cases, and the requests are time-consuming.

• The commission tabled a contract with Tri-Valley Development, Inc., and said they wanted to meet Tri-Valley’s new executive director. They asked the county counselor to review the proposed contract and compare it to past years.

• Commissioners gave approval for four Road and Bridge department employees to donate their sick leave time to another employee.

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