It was a time of looking back and looking forward at the Finney County Economic Development Corp.’s annual meeting Thursday at Garden City Community College, where everything from the dairy industry to wind energy was discussed.
In looking back at Finney County’s growth in 2015, FCEDC Board President Tom Walker acknowledged the support of the FCEDC’s partners — the City of Garden City, Finney County, GCCC and City of Holcomb.
“Our partners have shown their interest in working on methods to ensure necessary funding to keep FCEDC a vital force in our community, and that, I’m sure, is going to continue in the future,” Walker said.
Walker spoke briefly about the $235 million Meadowlark Dairy Nutrition plant that is currently under construction on 156 acres of property on the east side of U.S. Highway 83 between the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and the Arkansas River.
Walker said efforts to land the Meadowlark plant, an affiliate of Dairy Farmers of America, began about five years ago when FCEDC President Lona DuVall made a cold call to DFA.
“She made that call, and over the last five years, she’s made a lot of other calls to DFA. Finally, in the last year, we’ve seen the results of how those calls can come to be and how they can make these things happen,” Walker said. “This is how economic development works.”
DuVall said the DFA plant will serve only DFA-affiliated dairies in the area.
“We’re still going to need further processing, and the DFA folks feel like there’s a very good chance that another plant similar to theirs, with maybe a different dairy product, will come out to the area,” she said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Garden City resident Duane West told the FCEDC board that he would like to see more alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, come to the county.
“From my discussion that I’ve had with people who have those things located in other counties, they are a great, great benefit, not only to the individual landowner but in the way of producing tax revenue for the county where they’re located,” West said.
DuVall explained there have been some obstacles to wind project development here, including concerns raised by The Sierra Club to the Buffalo Dunes Wind Farm, a 250-megawatt project that included 135 turbines spread over land in Haskell and Grant counties.
TradeWind Energy of Lenexa developed that project and initially considered building just south of Garden City, but the Sierra Club raised concerns about two animals currently on the threatened species list, the longnose snake and prairie chicken, so the site was nixed.
“We do know the studies are in place, and we do know that we have good wind. So that is not the issue,” DuVall said. “We’ve welcomed them; the commissions have welcomed them. But unfortunately, when they run into concerns like that, they move on.”
She said the FCEDC currently is working with a wind project developer through the local permitting process and said the developer has been meeting with landowners to discuss the possibility of building in the county.
She also explained that counties don’t receive tax revenue from the projects, but rather payments in lieu of taxes, which are made to compensate local governments for some or all of the tax revenue that it loses because of the nature of the ownership or use of a particular piece of real property.
There is a portion of the Buffalo Dunes project located in Finney County consisting of transmission lines that connect to the Sunflower substation in Holcomb. DuVall said the county has received some payments in lieu of taxes from that.
Walker provided an update on a senior living project by Topeka-based Midwest Health. The Ranch House Senior Living is proposed on 25 acres of property at 2900 N. Campus Drive in Garden City.
Walker said construction is expected to begin some time in the spring. The facility is expected to open some time in 2017.