Commission hears concerns, continues NextEra negotiations

The Nemaha County Commissioners have been busy this past week listening and absorbing a plethora of information, which has been brought to them by multiple county residents in opposition of two wind farm projects proposed in Nemaha County. The first meeting was held on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, while the second was held on Monday, Jan. 7.

During the Dec. 31 meeting, multiple county residents attended to express their concern and present information they had found regarding wind energy projects. At the Jan. 7 meeting, Attorney James Neeld – the attorney hired by Nemaha County – was present to answer questions and give an update to residents about where they are in their negotiations with NextEra.

December 31

Lori Menold, a registered nurse in Nemaha County, presented possible health effects of wind turbines to the commissioners.

“Dr. John P. Harrison, an expert in the properties of matter at low temperatures with emphasis on high frequency sound waves, concluded that industrial wind turbines cause annoyance in about 20 percent of residents living within a distance considered acceptable by most regulatory authorities,” she said. “For many of the 20 percent, the annoyance and sleep disturbance led to adverse health effects. Also, to note, is the fact that those that have signed leased contracts, often can’t speak out negatively about the IWT [industrial wind turbines]. This makes it difficult to gather and collect all pertinent data. In lease agreements here in Nemaha county, the contract for the landowner to sign has an effects easement that includes all the following: audio, visual, view, light, flicker, noise, shadow, vibration, air turbulence, wake, electromagnetic, electrical and radio frequency interference, and any other effects attributed to the Wind Farm. At the end of the contract, it notes that complaints can’t come before a jury trial.”

The Herald reached out to NextEra to confirm this statement and NextEra would not provide a sample contract, citing the fact that contracts are private agreements between NextEra and landowners.

Menold expressed that there are multiple questions that need to be evaluated. Those questions included the following:

1. What are truly safe setback distances, in our higher rural populated and higher vulnerable county, with the layout of our ridged landscape and how sound travels?

2. Are decibel levels, especially in our terrain, going to be tested and monitored with all the appropriate weight scales that measure audible noise and infrasound? Will we know they will be below the 30-40 dba [A-weighted decibels], in all seasons?

3. With larger turbines, I understand more sound is emitted. Does this impact setback distance?

4. Because this is a 50 to 90 year lease, will larger blades go in over the course of time, that may impact safety when the 15 to 20 year life of the current blades are done?

5. How will this impact our life star/air ambulance services? Will it slow travel time with the large number of proposed turbines. Will it impact a rescue on Highway 75 or Highway 36?

6. Will there be a reporting mechanism for those adversely impacted by the wind turbines?

In regards to question five, Menold said she reached out to Craig Isom, who is the program director of the Med-Trans air ambulance service for our area. According to Menold, he said they can’t fly through a wind farm. If there is a farm accident, air rescue won’t be an option. He did ask that he be kept in the loop so they can have a solid plan in place, Menold said.

To see a full copy of Menold’s presentation, visit SabethaHerald.com.

After Menold’s presentation, the commissioners opened the meeting up to the rest of the patrons who were present.

One of the main topics discussed included setbacks for non-participating landowners, and Henry said that they continue to work  on it, and it is going to be a few weeks before they have numbers they can bring back to the public. Henry reassured the group that they have not given up and are continuing to fight for the health, safety and wellness of all Nemaha County citizens.

Other concerns that were brought up were the fact that some people felt like they signed contracts under false pretenses. Spencer Jenkins with NextEra said they have only had one contract throughout the entire project and that they encourage landowners to take the contract to their own attorneys for review.

The group continued to ask questions about setbacks, but commissioners said they cannot give any specifics at this time, due to decisions being made in executive session.

Wetmore resident Ginny Pfrang sympathized with the commissioners, saying they are in a tough spot, but that the public needs answers.

“I just appreciate what you guys go through,” she said. “I don’t know if there is anyone that would want to be in your position, because of the heat you’re taking. There is a lot of secrecy on our end that we have not been told. I do not know if you guys know about it. It’s just not good business.”

Henry responded, saying that the attorney – James Neeld – has been armed and they have discussed with him all of the public’s concerns regarding the project.

After more discussion regarding possibly zoning the county, Melissa Detweiler read a letter she had written to the commissioners. Visit SabethaHerald.com to see Detweiler’s full letter.

To watch the full commissioners meeting go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2acgSA-nrQ&t=3448s.

January 7

The commissioners met with their Attorney James Neeld in executive session from 9 to 10 a.m. Following executive session, there was no action taken.

Bruce Rinkes with Cook, Flatt and Strobel – a Holton company – presented to the commissioners about the services they provide to counties who are working with wind energy companies.

Rinkes said the process will have to begin with a submittal from NextEra regarding multiple issues, including haul routes, the size of trucks they plan to use, the wheel spacings of these trucks, and the loadings on each individual axle.

Then the County will need an engineering company such as Cook, Flatt and Strobel to examine these routes to determine if they can support these machines and if those roads needs to be modified to handle these loads. At the end of the project, the engineering company will look at the routes to determine if any damage was done to the routes.

Following Rinkes’ presentation, Neeld gave an update on where they are at in negotiations with NextEra and a rough timeline of the negotiating process.

Neeld said that they have presented terms to NextEra, and he is waiting on a response on those. Neeld said that multiple items are covered in the terms that they presented to NextEra.

“The terms include things such as setbacks, decibels levels, flicker rates, concepts where certain areas are excluded, it included concepts of reimbursement – professional fees including lawyer and engineering fees – also concepts involving a method by which citizens can make claims and how those claims are logged and presented to the county so that citizens of the county can view those logs and see where complaints have been filed,” he said. “Also, that there is insurance or some method by which those claims can be satisfied, and finally the end of the life of the project, how it is removed from the county.”

In regards to the term sheet, Neeld also said they requested a few other things in the term sheet. The first is that any expense that the county takes on in regards to this project, they have asked in the term sheet, that these be reimbursed to the county. The other thing is, they have capped the height of the turbine so they make sense with the setbacks they have requested.

Neeld expressed that what exactly the final terms will be are still being negotiated. But currently there are a few action items that Nemaha County owes to NextEra and a few thing the county is waiting on from NextEra.

The two action items Nemaha County is working on is the exact amount the county is requesting for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and an engineering company that the county wants, so they can begin coordinating with them on the haul routes. Regarding the PILOT, Neeld says they are still working on what that exact number is.

“We are not ready to present that [PILOT] because we are still running calculations and seeking input and advice from other counties who have gone through this,” Neeld said.

As for the action items that NextEra owes the county, Neeld says they are waiting on two things; the footprint and a density study, which they hope to get very soon.

A density study determines how close people live to one another. According to Neeld, in the term sheet that Nemaha County presented to NextEra, there are multiple setbacks they included such as from a residential home, from a commercial business, property line setbacks, and setbacks for public roads.

“If you can see the density of an area, you can see how all of those setbacks can affect a project,” Neeld said. “In some areas, the setback is somewhat immaterial because people live so far apart, but in other areas it gets more impactful, because people live closer together. So a density study allows you to put into perspective what a setback really means for a project. It will allow both NextEra and us to look at all areas.”

Once the negotiations have been completed on the term sheet, the terms will be released to the public and then a public hearing will be planned to discuss and debate the terms on term sheet.

Spencer Jenkins with NextEra confirmed during the meeting that the power, which will be generated through this project, will be kept in Kansas, as Westar has purchased the power from this project. Jenkins said Westar has sold power to K-State, Washburn, KU, City of Wichita, City of Manhattan, as well as other companies that are moving into Kansas.

Darin Hueske questioned what the commission needed to be looking into to prevent other companies from coming in and building.

“NextEra is a good company to work with,” Neeld said. “They are standing up here talking to you. You might not agree with everything they say, but they are still talking to you. Can you prevent another company from coming in? The answer is no unless it effects the health, safety and wellness of Nemaha County citizens, because there are no zoning laws.”

Neeld continued, saying that under advisement from the commissioners, he has reached out to Invenergy – the other company that has lease agreements in Nemaha County.

“One action item that the commissioners asked that I take, there was a company in Brown County that did some work. I, under the direction of the commissioners, sent a letter to that company asking that they coordinate with our commissioners before they try to do that in our county,” Neeld said. “Whether they abide with that or not, I don’t know. Can we stop them? No, you don’t have zoning laws. You can stop them if it affects the health, safety and wellness, and one way to do that is to prohibit the way they use your roads.”

The commissioners will meet on Monday, Jan. 14, at 9 a.m. with the wind farm discussion beginning at approximately 10 a.m.

To watch the full commissioners meeting, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkDcUCgWwQg&t=6s.

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Heather Stewart258 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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