Geary County Commission Approves Wind Farm Regulations

Kevin M. Smith
Junction City Daily Union, December 28, 2005

The Geary County Commission unanimously approved wind farm regulations for the county during its meeting Tuesday.

The commission, after reviewing the regulations for a second time, was waiting on Steve Opat, Geary County counselor, to finish reviewing the regulations from a legal standpoint.

Opat said in addition to reviewing the proposed Geary County regulations, he looked at other Kansas counties' regulations such as Butler and Riley.

"It gives you an idea of what other people are thinking ... their thought process," Opat said.

Opat said the biggest problem is that there is no uniform policy state wide or nation wide.

"We're left to trot on our own," Opat said.

The regulations were first drafted by the Junction City-Geary County Metropolitan Planning Commission. After more than a year of drafting the regulations, the MPC sent the regulations to the county commission for review. After revisions from the county commission, the MPC held a public hearing and reverted much of the document to the way it was before the commission revised it.

The MPC then sent the regulations back to the county commission for final approval. Attached to the recommended regulations was also a recommendation for the county commission to hold a public hearing. The county commission did not do so as the county citizens have differing views and it may not be productive to have a public hearing for wind farms in general and after the regulations are passed there will be public hearings on a case-by-case basis as developers submit applications, said Bill Deppish, county commission chairman, said at a November meeting.

Deppish said he felt comfortable with the regulations.

"We took our time -- not only our time -- the MPC took a lot of time ... not everything can be perfect, but I believe it's as good as we can get it," Deppish said.

The commission first considered zoning the county for wind farms about three years ago, Deppish said.

"I'm glad it's over," he said about the lengthy process. "We wanted to make sure it was right. If we get a developer... we have all the information ready for them to go."

So far, commissioner say, the only developer who has shown interest up until now has been Dale Osborn of Distributed Generation Systems, Inc., of Lakewood, Colo. Eldon Hoyle, county commissioner, said Osborn had contacted him recently wanting to know the status of the regulations. Hoyle told Osborn he would send him a copy of the regulations as soon as they were passed.

The regulations accomplish three major things: create a "special use permit" to build industrial structure in rural area -- which is currently prohibited, require wind farm developers to provide details about the site and place stipulations on wind farm development and construction.

The commission made two changes on the regulations after after receiving it from the MPC. The commission cut the time for the MPC to forward a recommendation on proposed wind farm projects from 120 days to 60 days after a public hearing. It also does not state a specific dollar amount for developers to pay for reclamation; commissioners said that would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis because each project may differ in size.

Kevin M. Smith can be reached at (785) 762-5000, Ext. 142, or ksmith@dailyu.com

Wind Farm Debate Heats Up

Kevin M. Smith
Junction City Daily Union, August 09, 2005

Four Geary County citizens from the McDowell Creek area told county commissioners on Monday that the wind farm regulations the commission approved last month were not in the best interests of Geary County residents.

Bill Deppish, county commission chair, told the group that the regulations -- drafted by a subcommittee of the Metropolitan Planning Commission -- were revised by the county commission to meet the best interests for Geary County.

"Not for any other county, not for the state, not what the Governor says -- for Geary County," Deppish said during the meeting.

Jayne Link, one of the residents who was present to protest the regulations, disagreed.

"Where do the residents benefit?" Link asked commissioners.

Sandra Clay, another resident who was present to protest, said the regulations are not neighbor friendly.

"It's my home that borders this deal and we've been there 24 years. ...I think having that thing next door will destroy how I feel about it," Clay said in an interview after the county commission meeting. "I don't like the way the county commission has revised the Metropolitan Planning Commission's wind regulations. ...They (county commissioners) have weakened it from the neighbor's point of view."

Clay said the group highlighted to the commission what they thought were the weaker points in the regulations.

One of those points is the 30-day protest period. If a wind farm is approved in Geary County, according to the current regulations, residents have 30 days to protest installing turbines. Clay said that is not enough time.

The regulations also create a special use permit for wind farm development -- which is currently prohibited.

Industrial development is not allowed in rural areas. The wind farm regulations for Geary County create a special use permit that allows industrial development of wind farms in rural areas. The special use permit is not given away freely, but rather is distributed with approval from the Geary County Commission. The owner of the permit (the wind farm developer) and the property owner both must submit requests to Planning and Zoning Department. The zoning administrator then schedules a public hearing with the Metropolitan Planning Commission no later than 30 days after the request is submitted. After the hearing, the MPC has 30 days to send its recommendation to the county commissioners.

"The special use permit itself -- what's the point of even have zoning?" Clay said in an interview.

Clay said she also wanted to know why the commission removed the phrase "by a preponderance of the evidence" from the regulations. The regulations used to read: "The Metropolitan Planning Commission shall not recommend approval of the request unless it determines, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the public interests to be served by the construction or expansion of the special use outweigh any impact upon legitimate community interests, as such impact is mitigated by any requirements of the Metropolitan Planning Commission."

Clay also said that wind farms in the Flint Hills could damage natural tallgrass prairie.

"It's in the middle of unbroken prairie," Clay said. "It's not to be taken lightly."

Margy Stewart, another resident in the group addressing the commission, said the issue was not necessarily against wind farms and clean energy, but against putting it in an untouched environment.

"Bring us a proposal in plowed ground and you might get a different response," Stewart said.

Stewart said there was a "healthy exchange" between the county commissioners and the group addressing them.

Deppish did not wish to comment during the commission's weekly press conference on the discussion with the group except that residents interested in voicing their opinion of wind farms -- pro and con -- should attend the public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium of the Junction City Municipal Building.

Bill Fader, zoning administrator, said there were some rezoning issues to address, preliminary plats to review and five preliminary plats to approve before the wind farm regulations hearing. He said it could be as late as 8 p.m. before the public hearing starts, but expects it to be sooner than that.