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Wind talk becomes heated

By KALEY LYON Hays Daily News Tensions were high Monday morning as a heated discussion regarding zoning issues and the request for a moratorium on wind energy development gusted into Ellis County Commission chambers. Keith Pfannenstiel, who lives on Mount Pleasant Road, suggested a moratorium on applications for wind development and revision of the current county zoning regulations. "Today, I am here personally asking there be a motion made for a moratorium," Pfannenstiel said. "I don't need to hear you will think about it. If a motion is made, at least the public knows which commissioners want to do this right. "They will also know which commissioners want to push it off so they can waive the one-year waiting period and accept another wind application." Pfannenstiel also suggested a committee independent of the planning and zoning board propose a comprehensive plan and rewrite zoning regulations. The moratorium not only would allow time to revisit zoning regulations, it also would allow time for necessary studies, he said. "So, unless you have conflicting interests, this moratorium is needed for more than one reason," Pfannenstiel said. "It is time you commissioners admit that zoning is far from where it should be and that it needs to be revised completely." John Schmeidler, co-chairman of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, also addressed commissioners regarding zoning issues. In late June, the coalition filed a petition of about 760 signatures requesting a moratorium. Schmeidler expressed concern at the county's lack of a comprehensive plan and spoke in favor of implementing one. "We need a moratorium, not necessarily for the wind project, but we need a moratorium for anything that's going to affect a large number of people in Ellis County until such time as we have a comprehensive plan," Schmeidler said. "One of the reasons Keith and I are both speaking here today is because just 13 months into zoning, we've had lots of problems." Schmeidler also said Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA will ask the commissioners for a waiver to reapply for a conditional-use permit within the next two weeks. A lengthy discussion between commissioners followed, as emotions ran high among those in attendance. A motion made by commissioner Perry Henman for a moratorium of one year, or until the county would have a comprehensive plan in place, failed for lack of a second. The composition of the county planning and zoning commission also was discussed. Schmeidler expressed concern at the reasons some commissioners cited for voting in favor of the wind farm application, while Pfannenstiel questioned conflicting interests and said he doesn't think the commissioners understand their role in determining land usage. "If we have a zoning question or a zoning problem, we have a zoning board. We take it to the zoning board, and they can present it to us," Berens said. "The moratorium at this time, I'm opposed to it." "Mr. Berens, I think the zoning board is a complete and total joke," Schmeidler said. "What?" Berens said. "The zoning board is a joke," Schmeidler said. "The zoning board is not a joke," Berens said. Commissioners also discussed the possibility of eliminating countywide zoning. "We as a commission put it in, we as a commission can take it back out," commissioner Dennis Pfannenstiel said. "I'm ready to make a motion that we just abolish countywide zoning. Without the countywide zoning, we wouldn't have this issue." Reporter Kaley Lyon can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 138, or by e-mail at klyon@dailynews.net. In other business: * Ernest Engel discussed a fence dispute in section 32, township 14, range 18. Commissioners adjourned at the end of the meeting to view the fence and the property boundaries in question. Commissioner Dennis Pfannenstiel refrained from participating in this issue due to a conflict of interest. He's related to the other property owner, Maurice Rohr. * Public Works Administrator Mike Graf discussed possible replacement of the office facility at the county landfill. Commissioners were presented with an example of a modular office and agreed a new facility should be pursued. * Commissioners approved a payment schedule for a Kansas Department of Transportation revolving loan drawn for the Saline River bridge project. The cost was $181,361.48, which will be paid by 2012.