Commissioners answer questions during emotional meeting
Emotions ran high regarding the Soldier Creek Wind Farm Project during the Nemaha County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, June 18. Multiple Nemaha County residents with concerns against the project – which is proposed to be located in the southern portion of Nemaha County – filled the Commissioner’s room, as well as the hallway outside of the room.
After a 15-minute executive session with the County’s hired wind farm attorney, James Neeld, the commissioners – Gary Scoby, Dennis Henry and Tim Burdiek – announced there was nothing new to present to the public.
“We just simply have no news to report for today,” Chairman Scoby said. “Mr. Neeld had travel complications in Chicago yesterday. So plain and simple, he didn’t have time to proceed or get anything accomplished concerning us. So, we have no new news.”
Citizens asked many questions regarding the site plan, term sheet, road use agreement, decommissioning and payments for damages, as well as expressing their concerns and frustrations about the commissioners not sharing information they know regarding the project, which is supposed to house approximately 120 turbines.
Scoby said NextEra Energy Resources is still working on micrositing – or identifying the exact location of the turbines – and hope to release both the term sheet and site plan, soon, with the public being allowed approximately one week to review the documents.
Cindy Brack of Seneca asked the commissioners if they would be willing to hold another public meeting for those wanting to speak regarding the new documents.
“I have had a lot of people send me messages that they want to be here but they cannot get off work,” she said. “Would you commit to doing another public meeting or something outside of business hours to discuss the new term sheet and the new site plan, so that those people can publicly attend and give their thoughts on the record?”
“We anticipate having another public meeting, however, we do not anticipate receiving public input,” Scoby said.
“So what would that meeting look like then? Who would be providing the information?” Brack said.
“Mr. Neeld or us,” D. Henry said.
“So is it safe to say that you are not interested in hearing public comment anymore, if you’re not willing to put a meeting forth, so people can publicly speak?” Brack said.
“We had two open public meetings and probably just are not going to go there again, at least as of today,” Scoby said.
The commissioners said they still continue to work on setbacks – both from property lines and homes – which is the main concern that they heard about during the two public meetings held back in April. At the public meetings, the majority of those speaking in regards to setbacks, asked for 1,350 feet setbacks from non-participating property lines and 3,000 feet for non-participating residences.
Brack questioned whether or not the commissioners were negotiating for the setback distances they had “overwhelmingly” heard about during the public meetings.
“It is all still be considered,” Scoby said. “That is all we can say.”
“Is it safe to assume that this is going to go through no matter what?” Marcie Koch of Centralia said.
“We commissioners are trying to do the best job we can do and that is really all we can say until we approve the term sheet,” Scoby said.
“But if there is a chance that this might not go through you wouldn’t be approving a term sheet,” Koch said.
Citizens asked why the topic couldn’t be put to a public vote. Scoby said the problem with a vote is writing the question.
“There is no way you can write that question that I know of,” he said. “It’s never been voted on in the state of Kansas to my knowledge. “
Brack asked why we couldn’t go with longer setbacks and let NextEra deal with finding out how to make them work in Nemaha County.
“If they are such a good company and good neighbor, why can’t we go with the longer setbacks and let them deal with it?” she said. “What is the problem with that?”
“We are working side by side with NextEra to get the best setbacks that we can get,” Scoby said.
“Well it sounds like we’ve gone backwards since the public was given the term sheet, which doesn’t make me very confident in how negotiations are going,” Brack said.
“You guys asked for public input and several talked to you after those and I think you all were really amazed by how the public showed up,” said Galen Niehues. “They may have to back down on the number of turbines, so they can work with that number, but now were hearing originally they were talking 120. The number is out there now of 130 [turbines]. It has gone up. It concerns me that NextEra said ‘we just can’t work with those numbers.’ So why is NextEra getting special preference over the citizens that have overwhelmingly voiced their concerns. I don’t buy that they can’t work with that. They are going to have to work harder, go to some other people, offer more money for a lease, do things differently. That is not a true statement that they ‘cannot work with that term. I don’t want to say this, but I think you guys are selling us out by going with what they’re saying versus what the public is saying. Isn’t that overwhelming what you heard at the public meetings? Tim, is that what you heard?”
“Have you been in our executive sessions?” Burdiek said. “You don’t have a clue what we are talking about. We have been hearing the setbacks. You don’t even know what the setbacks are going to be, do you?”
“There is a lot of speculation,” Niehues said.
“There you go, speculation,” Burdiek said. “Hearsay. You don’t know until you do, then you got something to talk about. Next week you’ll probably have something to talk about. Today we don’t. We have went long enough. We’ve heard your concerns and in my opinion, it is time to move on. We have a lot of things to get done with the county besides this. We’re listening, don’t think we’re not.”
Brack questioned whether the road and bridge agreement and decommissioning agreement, along with the term sheet and site plan all get voted on at the same time.
“We will vote on the term sheet and the site map and I think at that point in time, once the site map is approved – if it is – then a designated haul route can be established,” Scoby said. “We cannot approve a road use agreement until a site plan has been approved, but we’re going to meet with Mr. Neeld next week in person. I hope to have something more concrete at that time.”
Citizens also asked many legal questions, that the commissioners did not answer saying that Neeld would be present next week to field legal questions.
Henry concluded the meeting telling those present to not “threaten” the commissioners.
“I have received five or six phone calls this week, threatening me that I will never be re-elected again,” he said “I want you to know right now, I don’t know if I would ever run again, and I hope one of you has got the gumption that is ready to step up to the plate when it comes time. Don’t threaten us, I understand your problems and issues, and I understand feelings. I was the last class that graduated from Corning High School. So don’t tell me what it is like to have something taken away from you.”
“Don’t let the other side threaten you and scare you either,” Brack said. “Make the right choice.”
“We are doing the best job that we can possibly do,” Scoby said.
The commissioners plan to still review individual turbine sitings and encourage concerned citizens to reach out to them by email with if they have concerns regarding the site map.
The commissioners will meet again Monday, June 24, for their regular meeting. Open wind farm discussion is expected to begin at 10 a.m. Neeld plans to be present for the discussion.
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