Commission approves wind farm

Staff writer

Marion County Commission approved a conditional use permit Monday for a wind farm proposed by Rex Savage of Windborne Energy, of rural Florence.

Marion County Planning Commission had recommended approval following a two-session hearing at the beginning of November. The Planning Commission received no unfavorable letters or public comments regarding the company’s application.

Some unfavorable comments were made at Monday’s meeting, however. Joy Watches lives in the wind energy overlay district that would include the project. She said she declined to lease land to the project and opposed its approval.

Attorney Angela Madathil represents Clay Watches, who recently purchased land in the area. Madathil said her client wasn’t necessarily opposed to the development, but needed more information, especially regarding transmission lines.

Savage said the project will use an existing transmission line.

Attorney Pat Hughes spoke on behalf of the Robert Sellers family, who owns land near the project. He said there were two reasons they opposed approval of the project: the placement of the project and the process of the application.

Hughes said its area in the tallgrass prairie made it a threat to prairie chickens. Windborne Energy’s preliminary bird study recommended further review, he said.

If the project somehow drove prairie chicken populations low enough that they were declared an endangered species, the entire Flint Hills region would be affected, Hughes said.

He also said the application didn’t disclose necessary details. It was more of a concept than a plan, Hughes said.

“The applicant has come to you too early in the project,” he said.

Hughes also said there was a corruption of the application process, with the company pledging funds to government entities unrelated to the project.

Kansas exempts wind farms from all property taxes. Other wind farm developments have made similar payments to governments as a good-faith sign, Planning Commission members were told at a Nov. 1 meeting. However, such payments cannot be considered when making a permitting decision, consultant David Yearout emphasized at the time.

Planning Commission Chairman David Mueller said Yearout discussed all those issues with the commission, and the commission was satisfied with Savage’s plans.

Yearout said Monday that many of the regulations Marion County has on wind farms are more appropriate for consideration at the time of building permit applications than conditional use permit applications.

Yearout said the commission could approve the permit with the condition that the county would have approval over final building plans.

“You could take a little more right of review,” he said.

He also told commissioners they were under no obligation to accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval.

Savage said he began researching wind farms in 2001 and 2002. He lives in the proposed project area, and he said if he couldn’t live with it in his neighborhood, he wouldn’t have pursued it this far.

He said he couldn’t promise that he would find investors to build the wind farm, even with approval. But if the commission rejected his application, he said wind energy would likely never be developed in the county.

Commissioners approved the permit unanimously.

In other planning news:

  • A conditional use permit for a dining hall at Morningstar Ranch, 1176 Banner Road, Florence was approved. The permit is conditional on addressing flooding concerns.
  • Unsuitable soil led to Lacy and Susan Wallace’s septic system at 1172 330th Road, Tampa, failing, despite being only two years old. They have received approval for a lagoon because of the circumstances.
  • Planning and Zoning Director Tonya Richards met with commissioners in closed session for five minutes to discuss personnel. No action was taken on return to open session.
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