Nemaha County Commissioners, wind energy representatives update county residents

Nemaha County Commissioners receive a response from NextEra Energy, but many questions remain for county residents.

After having no new information last week, the Nemaha County Commissioners came back this week saying their Attorney James Neeld had received a response from NextEra Energy.

However, even though a response was received, NextEra Energy’s attorneys and Neeld are still negotiating multiple terms and are unable to share with county residents exactly what those negotiations entail.

January 21

There were no new updates for the county residents who attended the Nemaha County Commissioners meeting on Monday, Jan. 21. Commissioners Gary Scoby, Tim Burdiek and Dennis Henry were present for the discussion, as well as Attorney James Neeld, County Attorney Brad Lippert, County Clerk Mary Kay Schultejans, and multiple citizens from Nemaha County.

“By way of update as per Mr. Neeld, the wind turbine footprint and/or density study – both which have been requested multiple times – have not been received yet,” Scoby said.

“They have our proposal and I have discussed it with them,” Neeld said. “What we want to see before we actively negotiate any of the provisions is the footprint and the density study. These help us determine setbacks. Our goal is to put in the term sheet areas where they cannot put turbines.”

Neeld continued, saying they might have an update by the next week.

“The bottom line is they have our terms and they have had them for awhile,” he said. “We have talked and I have talked with their attorney about some of the terms, but I do not want to engage that until we have their footprint and their density study. They anticipate having things back to us by the next meeting, so hopefully we will have something next week.”

Neeld said, while he is disappointed that he does not have the footprint and density study, NextEra has been wonderful to work with.

“I’m disappointed that I don’t have those two reports,” he said. “However, I will say, NextEra has worked wonderfully with us and they have been very straight forward. They have a very good reputation. I just wish I had those studies because it would accelerate the negotiations.”

Multiple questions were asked regarding the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement, setbacks, the lifetime of the project and decommissioning, but the commissioners and Neeld said there are multiple items that are still being negotiated with NextEra. They also said that nothing will be agreed upon until the residents of Nemaha County have a chance to review the terms.

The commissioners then told those present about their trip the previous week to Pratt and Reno counties and what they learned from those counties.

USD No. 380 Superintendent Matt Rogers asked how these would affect school funding. The commissioners said they are still looking into that, but what they have seen most counties do, was the money received from the PILOT agreement went into the County’s General Fund and was distributed by their commission.

After more general questions were asked regarding the proposed wind farm, Lynette Strathman — retired CFO of C.J. Foods in Bern — presented an economic impact study that she compiled showing the impact of wind farms on rural counties. Her report detailed the profits that she projects Nemaha County would receive from the project in the first 20 years, as well as the amount the county would lose with the project.

According to Strathman, she sent her full report to multiple business leaders in the county. Some of those businesses included Lortscher, C.J. Foods, Wenger Manufacturing, USC, KSi, Keim TS and CW Mill. Strathman said that there are 836 jobs that are represented in this report.

“Although we are discussing just the Soldier Creek Project, the economic impact affects the entire county,” Strathman said.

To see Strathman’s full presentation, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7heRXFRX6ZA&t=3913s.

Following Strathman’s presentation, the commissioners opened the meeting up for questions regarding Strathman’s presentation.

Based on the information presented, business owner Dylan Keim asked if the commissioners would be willing to vote to approve a six-month moratorium, in order to look into the economic impact a little deeper.

The commissioners responded saying that they would rather wait to talk to Neeld before voting on that. Burdiek also said that the public will be notified before anything is signed.

“We’re not going to make a decision until we see numbers,” Burdiek said. “Once we get numbers, then we get input from you guys.”

To see a full video of this meeting, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DmIjLIvJIw.

January 28

The Nemaha County Commissioners met Monday, Jan. 28. Burdiek, Scoby and Henry were present for the meeting, as well as Schultejans and multiple residents of Nemaha County.

Scoby started the meeting by saying there is no news to share with the public, even though Neeld has received a response from NextEra.

“I think the hope is to respond to their reply within two weeks,” said Nemaha County Attorney Brad Lippert.

“At that time, we will hopefully have a term sheet that would be made available,” Scoby said.

One patron present questioned whether or not the commissioners discussed a moratorium with Neeld during their executive session earlier that morning.

“I don’t think we should get into what we discussed with our attorney, because it was in executive session,” Lippert said.

Others patrons asked if the commissioners could elaborate on what type of response was received from NextEra, or if they were asking for setback distances from the home or property line.

“That is a part of the negotiations and the term sheet,” Lippert said. “That was something discussed in executive session, so we can not release that to the public.”

Galen Ackerman questioned whether the commissioners had received the Pratt County project map.

Representatives from NextEra said the Pratt layout was provided to Neeld, as well as the density analysis and the northern boundary of the project.

In regard to the footprint, it has not been provided to commissioners, because the setbacks have not yet been determined.

Lippert added that Neeld had not provided copies of those documents to the county yet, but confirmed that county residents would have a chance to review those documents at some point.

“I would anticipate that once a term sheet is agreed upon and once the engineering plan is completed based upon that, then that would be made available to the public,” Lippert said. “A public hearing will then take place to discuss that.”

To see a full video of the meeting visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AkZOPXF-v4&t=2s.

The commissioners will meet for open wind farm discussion at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4.

Heather Stewart200 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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