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Vote: Let 'er blow

By KALEY LYON

klyon@dailynews.net

For the second time in less than a year, the Ellis County Commission was split in its decision to grant a conditional-use permit for a wind farm southwest of Hays.

This time, however, the 2-1 vote in favor of granting the permit was sufficient.

Approval of Iberdrola's much-contested 200-megawatt wind farm project, to stretch across approximately 13,000 acres of land, was granted this morning.

"The zoning board did vote 5-2 for approval," Commissioner Vernon Berens said. "All I can say is, I think it's an excellent benefit economically and otherwise for the county."

Chairman Dennis Pfannenstiel also voted in favor of granting the permit, while Commissioner Perry Henman again was the lone dissenter.

The Ellis County Joint Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit application in a 5-2 vote June 25.

When the project came before the commission in September, Henman expressed concern about the current county zoning regulations, which contain less than two pages of regulations for industrial wind developments.

These concerns were addressed in a written statement Henman presented to the board and the audience before the vote was taken.

"Also, one of the main reasons was the regulations and rules in our own zoning codes pertaining to industrial wind farms were grossly lacking, even compared with other Kansas counties with wind farms," Henman said. "I was hoping that the year-long moratorium would persuade the zoning board to study, debate, compromise on a new set of standards and regulations for Ellis County."

The application was denied last fall in a 2-1 vote.

A unanimous decision was needed then because project opponents filed a successful protest petition.

Zoning regulations call for a year-long moratorium after such a permit is denied, but commissioners waived the moratorium in a 2-1 vote early last month.

Henman also spoke in favor of incorporating further regulations and conditions into the motion of approval, similar to September's motion, which included setback distances, and called for road maintenance and decommissioning agreements.

"The resolution that's been proposed for us is basically a blank check," Henman said.

Henman also said that, after attending zoning meetings, he believes the zoning commission is hesitant to set regulations, as the county commission has the final authority.

"I think it's our duty then, if they won't do it, that we need to put conditions on a project of this scope so that people do have some protections or at least some minor protections," he said. "Or at least even do what the applicants have offered."

"We could be here all day," Berens said.

"I'm ready to do that," Henman responded. "I've got like four points."

Pfannenstiel said that, since the joint planning commission began the process of revising wind energy regulations earlier this year, the board has accepted recommendations from the public and will present their final recommendation to the commission for approval.

"I think they've done their job," Pfannenstiel said. "Anyway, we're here to act on the conditional-use permit, and I would entertain a motion either for or against."