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Wind farm company considers paying neighbors

By KALEY LYON Hays Daily News As earlier suggested by Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA representatives, landowners near the proposed wind project have been offered neighbor agreements. According to several neighbors, the agreements were received last week. "It's just part of our continuing effort to be as good a neighbor as possible to everyone around the project," said project manager Krista Gordon. "We were encouraged to do something like this by the board of Ellis County commissioners. We're trying to be responsible neighbors." It merely was coincidence the completed offers were received after the county commission's vote, she said. The county commission as a whole did not make this suggestion. Rather, commissioner Perry Henman had suggested neighbor cooperation during an unofficial conversation, though he didn't specify there should be compensation, Henman said. "I've talked to (Gordon) a few times," he said. "I'm sure in one of those conversations I suggested it would be a good idea to try to work with the neighbors." Commissioner Dennis Pfannenstiel said he never had made that suggestion, and chairman Vernon Berens could not be reached for comment. Several neighbors have decided not to sign the contract. In fact, according to legal advice obtained from the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, Topeka-based attorney Tom Barnes has advised against it. "Frankly, I cannot recommend that this agreement be signed," Barnes said in the document. "I do not believe that the compensation being offered under any of the three proposed compensation arrangements adequately compensates to you for all that you are being asked to give up." There were three different compensation offers, depending on how close each landowner would be to the generators, Gordon said. Most of the offers were for electrical reimbursement, in the amount of either 10,000 or 20,000 kilowatt-hours per year. According to a copy of the agreement obtained by The Hays Daily News, the initial reimbursement rate would be set by the electricity rate in the owner's most recent electrical bill. The electricity reimbursement rate would escalate by 1 percent each year. A one-time lump sum payment of $3,000 also has been offered to one landowner, according to the legal advice document. Some landowners have concerns of their own. The agreement includes easements for noise, light and shadows cast on owners' property and television reception. To some, it seems this language is an acknowledgment of these specific concerns, said Sheryl Butler, who lives on Golf Course Road. "Even the language that's been used, it's these 'supposed problems' -- you feel put down for these concerns," she said. "And then when you see it in writing from the company, basically saying, 'Here, we need to cover ourselves for these concerns,' you just want to shout to the world, 'It's possible,' ...or they wouldn't put in an agreement to cover it." Butler also said she's concerned about what the future repercussions of the agreement would be. The contract is for a time span of 35 years or the life of the project, and likely will follow the property should they choose to sell, she said. Another concern is the language of the proposed agreement. The document states the company will use "reasonable" measures to alleviate potential problems, said A.J. Pfannenstiel, who lives on 150th Avenue. The document states that if, 20 percent or more of the time on an annual basis, noise levels from the turbines exceed 45 decibels at night or 50dB during the day 30 feet from existing residences, Hays Wind will take all "commercially reasonable measures" to reduce noise levels to meet these standards. The company also will take reasonable measure if light and shadows cast substantially interfere with the "use and enjoyment of the residence," or if the project significantly interferes with the residence's television signal, the document states. "This is basically a blank check, saying, 'There's going to be noise out here, and we will take reasonable measures,' " Pfannenstiel said. "What are reasonable measures? Who's going to determine what the reasonable measures are?" Another concern is a clause of confidentiality included in the document, which it originally was suggested would not be included, said Keith Pfannenstiel, who lives on Mount Pleasant Road. In the July 13 issue of The Hays Daily News, Gordon was quoted as saying there would be no "gag order" stipulation that would prevent neighbors from voicing opposition to the project. The confidentiality provision states both the owner and Hays Wind shall maintain in confidence all information pertaining to the financial terms of the agreement. "It's not even a money issue to me," Keith Pfannenstiel said. "This is not a money issue. Basically, I would be signing away all those rights and saying, 'Yup, just do whatever you want.' " According to the document, landowners wishing to participate should sign and submit the contract by Dec. 31. Reporter Kaley Lyon can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 138, or by e-mail at klyon@dailynews.net. What's next? According to amendment 32-107 of the adopted Ellis County zoning regulations: "Whenever an application for amendment, supplement, change, rezoning or conditional-use permit has been denied by the Governing Body or withdrawn after newspaper publication notice for public hearing, such application or one substantially similar shall not be reconsidered sooner than one year after said denial or from the date the application was withdrawn. "The Governing Body may waive the limitation for good cause if there is a substantial change in the application as proposed ..."