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Reaction mixed on wind decision

By KALEY LYON Hays Daily News Not surprisingly, the 2-1 decision to reject the conditional-use permit for the Ellis County wind farm made by county commissioners left the public with mixed feelings. Opposing neighbors, who believe the location southwest of Hays is inappropriate, believe the decision was a step in the right direction. On the other hand, property owners who had entered easement agreements with the company and project supporters are disappointed. * Tim Davis, co-chair of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, said that commissioner Perry Henman's decision to reject the application until zoning regulations are revisited was sound. "I think, generally speaking, our issues are two-fold. The first is, do we have the right zoning document in place to protect the people of Ellis County?" Davis said. "Zoning regs are supposed to be built to support a comprehensive plan ... we don't even have one. Second, the zoning document that we have is woefully inadequate." Davis also said it is important for commissioners to solidify the necessary conditions in the county's zoning regulations before entering a contractual agreement. "When you buy a house, you don't sign a contract and say 'let's go back and talk about the roof that leaks,' " he said. "At the point you sign the contract, you lose the ability to negotiate." * Pat Bittel, who acts as co-secretary of the coalition, agreed that, while the decision was good news, there's still a cause for concern. "We are obviously pleased," she said. "But we're definitely concerned that there's going to be some manipulating and maneuvering to get it passed anyway." Zoning regulations stipulate that the application cannot be reconsidered for a year, but Bittel said she is concerned that the company could find a way to speed the process up. Throughout the debate, a primary goal of the coalition has been to secure a moratorium on wind energy development -- Bittel said she hopes this suggestion will be considered. "We want 12 months. We a want a moratorium," she said. "We want the zoning regulations to be revisited independently and to give this community a chance to heal, to give these families a chance to heal." Property rights -- on both sides of the debate -- are another key issue, she said, adding it's important to keep the debate focused. The issue at hand involves local land use, not renewable energy as a whole, she said. * Keith Pfannenstiel, who lives on Mount Pleasant Road, agreed that zoning is a key issue. "Anytime we can get a commissioner to understand 'hey, this process is wrong,' that's always a step in the right direction," Pfannenstiel said. "It has to be done right, or it's just going to hurt a lot of people." Pfannenstiel said county commissioners have agreed the county's zoning regulations could be improved, and he hopes the county will take the time to make necessary improvements. "Everything was just handled so poorly, that unless we go back and start with a comprehensive plan, redo the regulations .... we're wasting our time," he said. "This is going to be a battle that's never going to end." Pfannenstiel said that, furthermore, local government should examine the potential impact the project could have on the county, in terms of the economy and other important issues. * While she was disappointed by the commission's rejection, Iberdrola project manager Krista Gordon said she wasn't surprised. However, the commission's decision to not approve the conditional use permit doesn't necessarily mean plans will come to a halt, she said. "I expect we will progress, and we're strategizing right now about the best way to do that," she said. Gordon said that, ultimately, she has faith that the project still could be implemented in the area, largely because of the support she has seen in Ellis County. "Support for the project is still very overwhelming and very present in this community," she said. "I think right now the community is held captive by a very small minority, and I would like to see progress back in the community." It's an unusual occurrence in the industry for a wind development to be rejected by local government, she said. * Dana Kraus, who had entered an agreement to have turbines placed on his property, also was disappointed, but not surprised. However, he said the "nay" vote won't be the end of local wind farm plans. "It's not the end of the project," he said. "This remains an ideal location for a wind project. "The wind resource is here west of town, the 230-kilovolt line that reaches east of Munjor makes this ideal." Kraus said he still believes the majority of the community -- and the majority of county commissioners -- are in favor of this project. Among his concerns is the perception that property rights are being overlooked. "I think a wind project is a reasonable use of my property ... it's good for the planet, it's good for the county," he said. "The greatest frustration is that a minority still feels like their property rights supersede my property rights." * Neil Gottschalk agreed that the county commission's decision came as no surprise. However, he doesn't think the failure of the conditional-use permit application is a disappointment only for landowners who had entered agreements within the project area. "It was a big disappointment for me personally, as a landowner," he said. "And I think for progressive economic development for the county, it was a big disappointment." Gottschalk said that, as a farmer, several different options have been explored, as far as ways to profit from the land -- such as oil exploration, sand and gravel pits. He said he doesn't understand why wind exploration is singled out. In addition to the division the issue has created in his neighborhood, Gottschalk said he's afraid the county's "no" vote, and the present turmoil, could set a negative precedent for other development opportunities. "It's going to set a bad precedent for future economic development in this county, for other industries of any nature wanting to come in," he said. "They'll see what kind of turmoil ... and they might just turn their nose and choose some other place." Reporter Kaley Lyon can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 138, or by e-mail at klyon@dailynews.net.