Manhattan Mercury, June 28, 2004

Wabaunsee says no to wind farms

Mark Scott, Staff Writer

ALMA The Wabaunsee County Commission this morning nixed commercial wind energy conversion farms in the county, a move that was met with resounding applause from most of the 100-plus folks on hand for the vote.

It was not a unanimous vote from the three-member Commission, with Commissioner Arlan Stuewe voting against it. Commissioners Fred Howard and Maurice Gleason voted for the measure, which will permit smaller-scale, private wind energy operations such as those on farms.

The ruling effectively kills the large-scale proposal of a Germany-based energy company for a wind energy farm near the Munkers Creek area of Wabaunsee County.

The meeting took place in a Wabaunsee County courtroom because of the size of the crowd. It was an emotional ending to the months-long wind energy debate here, with handshakes and hugs all around.

Still to come are rulings in other Kansas counties and a final wrapup from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' Wind Energy Task Force.

 

 
 

Manhattan Mercury, June 29, 2004

County vote draws mixed feedback

Mark Scott, Staff Writer

ALMA Some folks called it a "landmark day" in the history of Wabaunsee County. Others simply shook their heads and called it a "travesty."

In keeping with the tone of the past 18 months, reaction was mixed in response to the Wabaunsee County Commission's 2-1 vote Monday to prohibit commercial wind energy farms in the county. The vote was a clear victory for opponents of wind energy development in the Flint Hills.

"I'm pleased for all the people in Wabaunsee County who have worked so hard this past year-and-a-half," said Bruce Waugh, a Wabaunsee County landowner and anti-wind farm leader. "They've (county commission) done something that for the long-term for the county is obviously in the best interests. Nobody wants to industrialize Wabaunsee County."

Wabaunsee County Commissioner Fred Howard made the motion to prohibit commercial wind energy conversion systems in the county, stating wind energy development "would not be in the best interest of the general welfare of the county as a whole."

"They would be incompatible with the rural, agricultural and scenic character of the county," Howard said. He also cited incompatibility with county zoning regulations and comprehensive land use plan; and an adverse impact on property values and nature-based tourism.

Voting with Howard was Wabaunsee County Commissioner Maurice Gleason. He did not comment on the reason for his vote, either prior to it or to the press afterward.

Both Howard and Gleason, who were the recipients of numerous handshakes and back pats after the meeting, are seeking fourth terms to the commission. Howard faces a Republican challenger in the August primary, and if he advances faces a Democrat in the fall. Gleason has a Democratic challenger in the November general election.

Wabaunsee County Commission Chairman Ervan Stuewe logged the dissenting vote, and had suggested the county consider three options. First on his list was adopting wind energy zoning regulations.

"I still feel at some point there will be judge tell us whether or not to have wind turbines," Stuewe said. "This way we would have wind turbine regulations in place."

Stuewe then suggested extending the moratorium until April of 2005 to give state officials time to study the findings of the Governor's Wind and Prairie Task Force. He also suggested sending the wind energy issue back to the planning commission so public hearings could be held on banning wind energy development in the county.

"A lot of counties have been watching to see what Wabaunsee County will do," Stuewe said. "I'm sure it is not over. We haven't heard the last of it."

Wind energy has been a hot button issue in Wabaunsee County ever since wind energy developers began to explore the Flint Hills area 18 months ago. In response Wabaunsee County, along with Riley County, issued multiple moratoriums on wind energy applications. Wind energy companies have repeatedly cited the Flint Hills as prime development area due to the location of transmission lines.

Monday's vote would appear to derail, or at least modify, the Munkers Creek Wind Farm project being put together by JW Prairie Windpower, a Germany-based company with an office in Lawrence.

"We are disappointed in the decision of the county commission to ban commercial wind energy in Wabaunsee County," said Jennifer States, managing director of JW Prairie Windpower, in a prepared statement. "In the coming days we will be consulting with our landowners and evaluating the options."

In recent weeks JW Prairie Windpower have been involved in discussions with the Morris County Commission about the project, which reportedly is in both Wabaunsee and Morris counties. Morris County does not have zoning regulations to screen such projects.

Speaking for the pro-wind energy side Monday was Roger Zimmerman, a farmer who owns property in the Munkers Creek area. Zimmerman, who was accompanied by his attorney, has been an outspoken advocate for property rights. Several weeks ago the Wabaunsee County Commission voted 2-1 to reject Zimmerman's application to have a meteorological tower on his property to allow JW Prairie Windpower to collect wind data.

Wabaunsee County landowner Jan Lyons addressed property rights prior to Monday's vote, and asked that the commission take time to get public comment before voting to ban wind turbines from the county.

"I feel there has not been an adequate opportunity for landowners in this county to speak,'' Lyons said. ''And even though Mr. Waugh said he spoke for landowners in this county, there is a difference of opinion about it and and there are many opinions to be heard."

You can reach Mark Scott by phone at 776-2300, ext. 249, or by e-mail at mscott@themercury.com

 

 
 

Manhattan Mercury, June 30, 2004

Editorial: Wabaunsee's bold step

The Wabaunsee County Commission showed both nerve and judgment Monday in preventing the construction of wind farms in that county.

The decision should end efforts on the parts of some companies to construct such farms, although those efforts will continue elsewhere. Morris County, for one, already has suggested it may be amenable to allowing wind farms. The matter is also on the table in Riley County.

But Wabaunsee County was in many ways the most fascinating test case because it is an area steeped in the best elements for this debate. Proponents view wind farms essentially as a property rights issue. Owners of the land make money for every tower constructed, they make it maintenance free, and they also make it substantially without disruption to the land's farming or ranching purposes. There are a lot of farmers and ranchers in Wabaunsee County.

But there are also a lot of dramatic vistas, vistas that opponents say would be scarred by the construction of wind farms. In fact, there are few if any places in the entire Midwest more worthy of preservation as an example of the great Midwestern prairie than those Wabaunsee County vistas. We have previously sided with, and we continue to side with, those who argue against spoiling the grandeur of the prairie by allowing wind farms within the more scenic areas of the Flint Hills.

The argument in favor of wind farms as an alternative energy source is not without merit. That force is small, but it could potentially grow. Frankly, we might be more persuaded toward that argument if the energy produced here was to be used here, and to hold down energy prices here. That, however, is not the case. The energy produced by the wind here would be shipped out of the region for use. It is true that in a broad sense all energy today is interchangeable, and in that sense Kansas derives some fallout benefit from the use of alternative sources in Missouri, Florida or Kentucky.

It is also true that some folks look at wind farms and see beauteous works of man. Taste is funny that way. To us, the Flint Hills look better as nature intended them.