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Coalition wants county to pull wind permit

1/20/2009

By GAYLE WEBER

gweber@dailynews.net

The Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition has requested Ellis County withdraw the conditional-use permit it granted to Hays Wind LLC last year for a wind project southwest of Hays.

ECEAC also requested Monday that Ellis County commissioners implement a moratorium on other applications until a comprehensive plan is developed.

"Our concern with approving the conditional-use application without a comprehensive plan really increased due to the fact that there are four other industrial wind projects in consideration for Ellis County," said Jeff Wick, who spoke on behalf of the group.

The ECEAC was formed in opposition to the wind project, and many of its members are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the county regarding the approval of Hays Wind's application. Commissioner Glenn Diehl was a founding member of the group.

Wick said the group is concerned with the planning-and-zoning process behind the application's approval, not the wind generation itself.

"If you choose to withdraw the permit, once a comprehensive plan is completed ... Hays Wind can simply re-apply for a permit," Wick said.

This is Hays Wind's second application for the same project. Its first application was defeated by a protest petition in 2007.

In the lawsuit, a summary judgment request from the plaintiffs is due today. Ellis County will have 21 days to respond.

If Ellis County does not withdraw the permit, a hearing to argue the motions from both sides would be scheduled.

"In reality, the moratorium will delay the project as we know it, but it really should be a shorter process than the ongoing legal process which certainly will last well over one year from today," Wick said.

Dale Wing, county zoning administrator, and Krista Gordon, Hays Wind's project manager, gave depositions in the case last week. Wick used some of their statements to support his case Monday.

Wick said sufficient notice was not given to all involved parties prior to the planning commission's public hearing on the application.

Ellis County conceded a lawsuit in November regarding a cell phone tower near Victoria because the county did not provide sufficient notice prior to a public hearing.

Wick also said the application did not include boundaries that covered the entire project. Boundaries were not included for the infrastructure for the project, which Wick said is essential in a wind-conversion system.

"These are not minor technical issues," Wick said. "These are major deficiencies."

Commissioner Vernon Berens said the commission would have to consult its counsel, Dennis Davidson, on the issue, in order to determine how to proceed with the case.

Commission Chairman Perry Henman said he would like to see a legal document prescribing a moratorium from County Counselor Bill Jeter at next week's meeting.

"I'm not sure a moratorium would be a big burden on the other wind farms that are out there because most of them just put up (meteorological) towers and they're claiming one to two years of data collecting, which hopefully, we'll do what we need to do before that," Henman said.

All commissioners agreed they would like to see a comprehensive plan for the county, which would confirm and regulate the current zoning guidelines. But the county commission has never directed the planning commission to develop one.

"I think we need one. I think that's why we're in the situation we're in on a lot of these," Diehl said.

"We need a comprehensive plan to address some of these issues -- wind farm, No. 1, the landfill's another (and) growth in the county. We need to direct growth. Instead of having little 2-acre homesteads out in the county, I'd rather see planned progress."

Jeter said the commission could appoint whoever it wanted to create a comprehensive plan.

Diehl suggested appointing a board of zoning appeals charged with the task. The board then would meet at least once a year to update the plan and make sure it is working.

The appointment of a board of zoning appeals separate from the current planning commission also would conform to an opinion by the Kansas Attorney General's office that stated the nine-member planning commission could not legally act as a board of zoning appeals.

Diehl said commissioners could appoint two members from each district, with Henman appointing the seventh member to the board of zoning appeals.

"We should look hard for people that live in areas these rules govern," Henman said.