Saturday, December 15, 2007

Property Rights Versus the Common Good

"Farmers have a right to do what they want on their own land."

It is a statement we have heard numerous times from those seeking to profit from the placement of wind turbines in Ellis County. It was stated to me personally by Lance Russell as the reason he got involved with zoning in Ellis County, no doubt parroting the views of his step-father, Harold Kraus, and it has been stated publicly by Gene Bittel, current chair of our zoning board, and by Charlie Rohr, another zoning board member.

Regardless of any merits or pitfalls of wind energy, I would point out that there are many legal limitations to what people can and cannot do on their own land - farmland or otherwise - even without zoning. You cannot hunt wild game out of season, or without a license, simply because it happens to occur on your property. You cannot divert water courses or damn up streams without obtaining special permits from the appropriate authorities. You cannot willfully contaminate ground water with toxic substances. And you cannot cultivate marijuana or construct a still to produce your own whisky.

These laws were enacted to preserve the environment, conserve society's public resources, and protect against perceived human health and safety hazards. They exist because many activities cause impacts far beyond the actual property on which they occur. The same is true for wind turbines. Those demanding to do whatever they want on their own land essentially seek to ignore the common good and the interests of society in pursuit of their own personal gain.

When we introduce county-wide zoning to the equation, we add a layer of complexity. We further diminish individual property rights in order to give local government more control over the nature of property use. Zoning becomes increasingly necessary as communities grow because the potential for conflicts over land use increases with population density and development. But in return, zoning provides some guarantee about what is reasonable to expect from one's neighbors. You lose freedom as a property owner, but you gain rights as a neighbor. As previously pointed out by Mr. Schmeidler, without this give-and-take, zoning law would not be constitutional.

Thus it is exceedingly remarkable that members of any zoning board would espouse the idea that property owners should be able to do whatever they please on their own land. It belies a complete ignorance of the very fundamental principles of zoning. It is therefore not surprising that these same people should approve a conditional use permit for a communications tower that is unfairly rigged to deny neighbors any recourse to object - against the very spirit of zoning law.

I find it ironic that those responsible for zoning Ellis County did so with the intent of protecting wind developers (and themselves) from liability, confident in their ability to manipulate the conditional use permit in their favor, only to be foiled by the protest petition that zoning law provides to protect the rights of neighbors. With the cell tower CUP, these same zoning board members are testing the waters for yet another way to corrupt due process and zone all their wind towers on tiny postage stamps of land that would, in effect, be 'neighbor-free'. In approving this CUP, two of our County Commissioners have not only revealed their complicity in this corruption, but have thumbed their noses at the very rules they themselves instituted and exposed Ellis County to a costly law suit it cannot possibly win.

Surely these are reasons enough for all citizens of Ellis County to rise up, pack these public meetings, expose this corruption to public embarassment, and invest in the processes necessary to remove these puppets of private interest and replace them with responsible representatives of the people.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Wisdom of a Comprehensive Plan

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.

As I struggled to understand Mr. Lowry admonishing the county to “not get too hung up on a comprehensive plan” (among a few other statements), the words of Lewis Caroll sprung into my mind. As they did it hit me, that similar to the “Jabberwocky”, the only way to make sense of nonsensical lyricism is to accept that it’s not supposed to. I’m not sure there is any other way to interpret a statement that implies that the Ellis County Zoning and Planning board shouldn’t have a plan to guide their zoning decisions.

If you have spent any time in or around any organization, you probably know the difference between vision, goals and objectives. Vision gives you direction, goals give you specificity to achieve the vision and objectives outline specific actions necessary to reach the goal.

Similarly, a comprehensive plan quantifies the vision and outlines specific goals for the community. The zoning regulations give the specific actions needed to reach those goals and thereby achieve that vision. You can engage in all the action you want, but until it is guided by a vision and goals, those actions may or may not serve your best interest.

It may well be true that in Kansas the comprehensive plan has no specific statutory authority. However, it does not then imply that a plan is unnecessary. Many states wisely require a detailed comprehensive plan prior to adopting zoning regulations. In most of the other states (Kansas included) a community takes a higher risk for judicial intervention if they have zoning without a comprehensive plan (Golden v. City of Overland Park).

As Lorraine A. Cortés-Vázquez, the New York secretary of state put it; The comprehensive plan is insurance that the zoning ordinance is reasonable and “bears a reasonable relation between the end sought to be achieved by the regulation and the means used to achieve that end.”

Right now, we don’t have an agreed upon notion of what the “end sought” vision for zoning is in Ellis County, because we don’t have a comprehensive plan. If our vision of zoning is "to protect agriculture" as it has been mentioned numerous times by the Zoning and Planning Board, then we need a comprehensive plan to quantify what that means and set specific goals by which we hope to achieve that end. Then and only then does it make sense to set specific courses of action or zoning rules by which to meet those goals. Without the vision and goals, we cannot hope to have specific enough objectives or rules to accomplish what we want (whatever that is). In other words, one cannot hope to interpret or accomplish the letter of the law, without understanding the spirit of it.

Without a comprehensive plan, the vision for the community is dependent on the individual commissioners along with the zoning and planning board members at any given time. The rules and the application of them are therefore guided more by personal interest, bias and politics of the moment than upon a guiding vision set by the community at large. Imagine if the United States of America were only guided by a series of laws passed by the legislature. Without the guiding vision of a constitution, there is no set vision for our country, no stability over time and no protection from the whims of individual government leaders. Ultimately, we owe our success as a country more to our constitution than to our individual laws.

Community development is a long complicated journey. I for one want a clear sense of where I’m going, why and how I want to go there BEFORE I just start walking. In the end, the investment in this process will pay exponential dividends in time, effort, resources and outcomes. It is only rational to assume that our community would want the same thoughtful process to guide us.

As a result, I’m assuming that Mr. Lowry’s suggestion was not intended to be rational. That being the case, though Carrols “Jabberwocky” is typically regarded as the greatest nonsense poem ever penned in the English language, the editorial in the 11-30-07 edition of the HDN has to be a close second.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Suing to enforce the law

This is from Paul Faber, resident of Ellis County, Kansas:

Kansas farmers and ranchers are an inventive lot. A number of small- to medium-sized companies in Kansas owe their origin to a farmer who thought of a better way of getting the job done.

But when a little guy invents a better mousetrap, sometimes the big cats in the neighborhood want it. And sometimes they steal the idea.

More than one small company has seen the huge implement manufacturer just walk right over the inventor's patent and start to manufacture the better mousetrap itself.

How do they get away with this? How can the big guys get away with stealing the idea?

Money is how they do it.

Even if the little guy clearly has the law on his side, the only way to enforce laws about patents is through a lawsuit. And it costs lots of money to file a lawsuit and to carry on a lawsuit, which might include deposing witnesses and bringing in expert witnesses from a distance. When the big guy loses, he can appeal and make it even more expensive for the little guy to protect his rights.

Of course, it costs the big guys just as much to fight the lawsuit, but there is a tremendous inequality in what percent of one's income or one's wealth the lawsuit will cost.

For example, suppose that you or I invented something, had the idea stolen by a big company, and then sued the big company. Your lawyer may very well tell you that it may cost about $50,000 to see this lawsuit through. For you or me, that may very well exceed one's annual income. But for a really big company, $50,000 is just a drop in the bucket. In fact, the company may already have the lawyer on the staff. Of course, the company still has to pay that lawyer, but if they are paying her anyway, then defending against a suit does not add anything to the costs they already have.

So even though your cause may be right as rain, it is awfully hard to afford to defend your right. Some people just give up.

Nine families in Victoria are facing that sort of difficulty right now, and they are saying they will not give up. It is not about an invention, though; it is about the Ellis County Commission not following the law. And the only thing these families can do about it is spend their own money to file a suit against the county.

This is what I understand to be happening.

The Hays Daily News reported that in its Nov. 14 meeting, the Ellis County Commission voted to authorize a conditional use permit -- which is something like an exception to the zoning laws -- so that a new cell tower could be built right outside the city limits of Victoria.

The county commission has the authority to issue conditional use permits, but the county commission has to follow the law in its consideration.

There are two things about the commission's decision-making that seem to be clear violations of the law.

First, from what I understand, the zoning ordinances talk about conditional-use permits for parcels of land. Parcels is the key here. Then, in order to try to ensure that a community agrees to a neighbor's use of land, there is a "petition" procedure. If owners of at least 20 percent of the land within 1,000 feet of the boundaries of the parcel in question sign this petition, then the county commission must be unanimous in their approval if they are to approve the conditional-use permit at all.

In the Victoria cell tower case, however, the county commission allowed the applicants for the conditional-use permit to set the boundaries of the permit area to be just a very small area around the base of the structure. They did not set the boundaries of the permit area at the boundaries of the parcel of land. (Even the support wires come from outside of the permit area.)

And they did this so that only the owner of the land, the person who stands to gain financially from the conditional-use permit, would be within 1,000 feet of the boundary of the permit area. Thus, the county commission is allowing someone to use a shady way of avoiding the requirements of the law.

So that is the first way that the county commission looks to have acted illegally. Then secondly, the zoning regulations say, "No new commercial telecommunication tower location shall be approved unless the applicant shall show that there is not sufficient or usable space on existing or approved towers in the same service area. Such verification shall be in the form of written correspondence from the owner of such towers or structures of their unavailability." Nex-Tech, I understand, has the rights to the co-op elevator, and Alltel to an existing tower built specifically for cell phone communication.

During the commission's deliberations, one commissioner pointed out the requirements of the law and that the applicants do not have "written correspondence" showing that the existing towers are unavailable. But the county commission, despite the vote of this one commissioner, decided to approve the application anyway.

The law sets a requirement, but the county commissioners ignore it.

So now a group of Victoria citizens is ready to file a lawsuit against the county. But it will cost them money. The lawyer says it will cost $1,500 or so just to file the suit, and then it will probably cost about $4,500 if it is a simple trial, and much more should the county eventually appeal the court's decision.

Now I personally do not know whether having a new cell tower right on the edge of Victoria is necessary or not. But even if it is a good idea, it should not be brought about by a county commission that violates the law.

And it is a shame that the little guys have to spend big bucks to try to get the county commission to obey the law.

Submitted by:
Paul Faber
Hays, Kansas

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Zoning must be fair or leadership must change

(submitted to Hays Daily News Nov. 17 by John Schmeidler)

Until recently, local government in Ellis County has consisted of a group of "insiders" who ran things the way they want. This good ol' boys club has run roughshod over the entire county for years and gotten away with it because people do not get involved in the political process.

Zoning is based on the premise that people who own property have a constitutionally guaranteed right to control of their property. Whenever courts have considered the constitutionality of zoning, which unquestionably constitutes a governmental control of private property (a power of government which did not exist until 1921, or thereabouts) the courts have always concluded that zoning is constitutional because, in assuming control over private property, the government is giving back something of equal value. That something is the government's protection from having their property diminished in any way and is also a right guaranteed by the government.

What this means is that people have a right to their property as it exists at the time of zoning. Agricultural, i.e. farmers and ranchers have a right to always use their property for crops and livestock. But that also means they have no right to use their property for an industrial complex because the same protection extends to the adjoining landowners. They also have a legally defensible expectation that their adjoining neighbors cannot use their property for anything non-agricultural. Although some courts have not honored this concept, it is nevertheless, the only way that zoning can be interpreted as constitutional and not a violation of individuals' rights.

No one in the wind farm project area who purchased their property when it was zoned agricultural should have to accept industrial activity on that land because they are being denied their right to enjoy their property as it existed before zoning took effect. That is the guarantee that zoning must provide to be constitutionally legal.

Unfortunately, zoning as it now exists in Ellis County has been corrupted. It is being used as a tool of interested parties to force people to accept something adverse to their property. A right that, as above, should be protected by our local government and a right that is clearly being abused in the current application process for the cell phone tower next to Victoria.

No matter what political affiliation we subscribe to, we should always remember that all political power rests with the people. It is up to the people of Ellis County to hold local government accountable for the responsible administration of zoning laws or effect changes in leadership as needed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What exactly were their intentions when they implemented zoning in the first place?

Written and submitted by Rod and Pat Bittel, longtime residents of Ellis County:

When our kids were small and we would ask them why they liked something, typically they would say, "Because it's fun." We can now say for at least two of the three county commissioners (the two that voted in favor of zoning) zoning isn't fun anymore. If you have been following the stories published recently in the HDN covering the county commission meetings, it seems that zoning has become a millstone around the necks of county commissioners Vernon Berens and Dennis Pfannenstiel.

Maybe we need to ask what made zoning so appealing to these two gentlemen in the first place. Mr. Berens and Mr. Pfannenstiel intentionally pushed to establish county-wide zoning. What was their purpose for doing this? According to Article 1-102 in our zoning regulations, the first purpose of zoning is to promote the health, safety, comfort and general welfare of the citizens of Ellis County, Kansas. Was that their intention when they voted to pass zoning?

Now the tide has turned. In the county commission meeting of November 15, 2007, Mr. Pfannenstiel said, "If we get rid of county-wide zoning and this thing moves forward (the cell tower) we'd have no problems, I'm very much in favor of just abolishing it, getting rid of it, letting them do what they want."

Mr. Berens said, "We're getting to the point where we are going to abandon county wide zoning and that's very, very, close." Why was an idea that was so good two years ago to become the scourge of the county commission chambers? What took the bloom off of zoning for the commissioners?

Perhaps one possible answer is that now there are regulations that need to be followed. A regulation is an authorized set of rules. The county commission established by law the regulations when they passed zoning. These same commissioners are now disregarding the regulations that they established. Here�s an example. In the case of the proposed cell tower near Victoria, it states clearly in Article 27.7, 32 c., of our zoning regulations that "No new commercial telecommunication tower location shall be approved unless the applicant shall show that there is not sufficient or usable space on existing or approved towers in the same service area. Such verification shall be in the form of written correspondence from the owner of such towers or structures of their unavailability."

Our third county commissioner, Perry Henman, read this regulation out loud to the other commissioners and then pointed out that there were no such letters from Nex-Tech or All-Tel, both of which have potentially available space.

How was the news of this received? Mr. Pfannenstiel moved to approve the project, "I'll make the motion because I think everything's in line." He continued, "I think it's a good thing. We need cell communication towers."

Even if it means breaking the law?

While Mr. Pfannenstiel and Mr. Berens are singing the county-wide zoning blues, Mr. Henman has a solution to their woes. The solution is to establish a comprehensive plan for Ellis County. The solution is to take our current zoning seriously to guide future development. But Mr. Pfannenstiel will have no such thing in his county stating, "A comprehensive plan would say we do nothing in Ellis County."

When we first started paying attention to the actions of the Ellis County Commission, we found some of their reasoning to be like that of a grandpa, inattentive but who meaning no harm. "Now Dad, you forgot to use your blinker. Be careful!" Now their actions seem to be entering into the intentionally harmful stage. "Dad, you are heading straight down a ravine. Stop!!"

We've stopped having fun.

Submitted by:
Rod & Pat Bittel
1101 Noose Road
Hays, Kansas

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why not Nuclear Waste Storage in Ellis County?

(submitted to Hays Daily News, Nov. 17)

In last Mondays' Commission meeting, Commissioner Perry Henman pointed out many serious problems associated with the application for a conditional use permit for a cell phone tower in Victoria: The irregularity of seeking to permit "a parcel within a parcel" instead of the entire property, the potential for violation of zoning rules regarding proximity of towers to property lines, the public safety risk of a tower collapse across Hwy 40, and the lack of evidence, required by law, that existing towers cannot be used.

However, none of these issues were a problem for Commissioner Pfannenstiel who judged that "everything is in line". His position? If all projects are opposed, Ellis County will not progress. The question is - progress how? With Berens and Pfannenstiel in charge, we might expect even a nuclear waste storage facility would be welcome in Ellis County - provided it yielded a good profit for the right people it could well fall under their current definition of progress.

Perhaps Mr. Pfannenstiel should consider the possibility that truly beneficial projects are typically welcomed in a community without creating social divisions and family feuds. Perhaps it is only those projects with significant negative impacts, and those implemented through unscrupulous tactics, that are likely to be opposed vociferously by local residents. Have you forgotten them Mr. Pfannenstiel? These are the people who will have to live with your "progress."

Commissioners Berens and Pfannenstiel seem unwilling to challenge any zoning recommendations, no matter how flawed. They would rather hide behind bad recommendations and use them as justifications for arbitrary decisions they wish to make that are not in the public's best interest. No wonder they oppose a comprehensive zoning plan for the county - they have discovered the conditional use permit to be a convenient mechanism than can be bent to suit their every whim.

Mr. Berens stated that if we have a zoning board then "we need to have faith in those people." No, Mr. Berens we are under no such obligation, and neither are you. The recommendations of the zoning board should be considered, but there were also dissenting votes. However, these are just a handful of appointed people, many with their own private agendas, whereas you were elected to use YOUR judgment to ensure the best interests of Ellis County are served. That means subjecting those recommendations to rigorous scrutiny - just like Commissioner Henman. If you take recommendation at face value, despite obvious irregularities, you become delinquent in the execution of your duties.

Mr. Pfannenstiel has repeatedly threatened to abolish zoning in order to railroad his favored projects over public resistance. So Mr. Pfannenstiel, you zoned the county for wind energy (against overwhelming public opposition) but now, since zoning isn't working to suit your interests, you want to revoke it in order to deny people the legal protection it provides them - just when they need it most? You seem to want to change the rules of the game every time you don't get your way. Maybe its time for you to just pick up your toys and leave the playground.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

ECEAC Addresses Ellis County Commissioners Regarding Zoning Irregularities

The HDN newspaper article reprinted below describes ECEAC's continuing commitment in advocating for and assisting local citizens in preserving all aspects of the natural rural environment of Ellis County:

Proposed tower still causing concerns

A proposed cell phone tower to be located near Victoria city limits again was discussed at Monday's Ellis County Commission meeting, as several residents addressed commissioners between scheduled agenda items.

Several of the speakers are representatives of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, a group formed to "preserve all aspects of the natural rural environment," according to its Web site,

Jacinta Faber was one of the coalition members to address the board, voicing concern about the application process and Ellis County zoning regulations.

"After reading the zoning regs, my belief is the purpose (of zoning) is to live together harmoniously," Faber said. "The basic point is that when a structure or use has a visual, auditory or olfactory impact on others, their welfare and wishes deserve consideration."

Article 32-102 of the Ellis County zoning regulations states written notice of proposed rezoning shall be mailed at least 20 days before the public hearing to all landowners within 1,000 feet of the unincorporated area proposed to be altered. It also states the notice shall extend 200 feet where the notification area extends within the corporate limits of a city.

"Is Victoria being treated as unincorporated area? Does the 1,000-foot limit apply?" Faber asked. "The big issue is what is the area being proposed for this conditional-use permit?"

Article 27-102 also requires the zoning commission to do a "careful study" of the effect of such structures, she said.

"Can we see the study that they've done?" Faber said. "A study is a thing. It is a product. It should be documented."

John Schmeidler, co-chairman of the ECEAC, questioned the project area, which is a 100 foot square along the west side of Paul Schippers' property, he said. Such a small project area eliminates the possibility of a formal protest petition, which owners of 20 percent of the land within 1,000 feet of the affected area must endorse.

The area also does not include the tower's guide wires, Schmeidler said, which will extend about 270 feet from the tower's center.

"These are fundamental errors that we have to do something about," he said. "There are usually support structures ... a physical support structure, and that should be included in the permitted area. In this case, it is not."

The application for a conditional-use permit was filed by Paul Schippers, and the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-2 on Oct. 24 to recommend approval of the application, which began the two-week protest period.

The tower, which would be constructed on behalf of Overland Park-based RCC Atlantic, would be more than 300 feet tall.

Rose Ann Dreiling, who lives near the affected area in Victoria, also approached the commissioners with concerns.

"Why do we want to depreciate other land that is close to Victoria that could be potential growth for our city?" Dreiling said.

"People aren't going to want to build next to a cell tower that's 340 feet."

Dreiling also expressed concern at the required setback distance. According to article 27-104 of the Ellis County zoning regulations, the structure must be located at a minimum distance of half the height of the tower from all property lines.

Commissioner Perry Henman agreed some of these issues might require further consideration when the application comes before the commissioners, and agreed the entire tract of property should be rezoned, rather than a small portion of it.

"If there's a certain spot, then we need the legal description of that spot. And it should include all the pieces of that structure," he said. "And we can look at things like public safety, is that too close to the highway and we can make them move it a little further away from the highway. It might still be the same piece of ground.

"But we can do things like that, and we can send that back to the planning board and tell them, 'Here's our concerns,' and they can think about it again and make their recommendation." (Hays Daily News)

Citizens wishing to contact the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition about their rights or concerns regarding the cell phone tower in Victoria, the industrial wind complex proposed just south and west of Hays, or any other related environmental impact or rural zoning issue, may write to us at P.O. Box 464, Hays, KS 67601, or directly contact these individuals:
  • Tim Davis, Co-Chair of ECEAC, todavis{at}, 785-623-3590
  • John Schmeidler, ECEAC Co-Chair, jschmeidler{at}, 785-259-4314
  • Jacinta Faber, Media Liaison, 785-628-8817
Additionally, any Ellis Co. citizens concerned about this tower proposed in Victoria, Kansas, should make their opinions known by attending Ellis County Commission meetings (Commission Room at the Courthouse, 1204 Fort Street, Hays, Kansas), held every Monday, and the Ellis County Planning & Zoning Meetings, held every month. Concerned citizens should also write letters to their county commissioners directly by mailing to 1204 Fort Street, Hays, Kansas. The three current commissioners for Ellis County are:
  • Perry S Henman, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 1st District (City of Ellis, western Hays & western Ellis Co.)
  • Dennis J Pfannenstiel, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 2nd District (central Hays & central Ellis Co.)
  • Vernon L Berens, Chairman, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 3rd District (Victoria, eastern Hays, & eastern Ellis Co.): 785-735-9364, 785-735-2883

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Zoning Irregularities

(Submitted to HDN, Nov. 5)

What is 340 feet tall and makes a mockery of zoning in Victoria? Answer: A proposed cell phone tower with a rigged application. Just like the wind farm, it is not the project itself, as much as the process, that should concern Ellis County citizens.

1. The permitted area.

Scrutiny of the application reveals that the area proposed for conditional use is only 100 ft by 100 ft - instead of the complete parcel of land. Why? To render a protest petition impossible and deny neighbors their legal right to object. Even the guy wires supporting the tower will extend beyond 100 feet. Some board members we spoke with were unaware they had voted to permit a tiny 'parcel within a parcel', assuming it was the entire property. If this is allowable, then anyone can zone a tiny subsection of their property for any purpose and bordering properties can be denied the legal recourse they are guaranteed by zoning law.

In responding to opponents' requests that the tower be moved closer to an existing waste lagoon, Mr. Wing noted that if the zoned area were changed, this would require a new application. Yet, the zoning board subsequently moved the tower 300 feet within the property, changing the zoned parcel. Why then was a new application not required?

2. Tower regulations.

Our zoning regulations state that any tower must remain at least half its height in distance from any property line. This is irregular because the standard is 1.5 times the tower height to provide safety for neighbors in case of a collapse. Nevertheless, even this regulation would seem to rule out a permit for a 340 ft. tower on a 100 ft square, as this could allow the placement of towers less than 1/3 their height from property lines. As proposed, the tower could collapse right across Hwy 40.

3. Description of the protest area.

The protest area outlined on the application map is a square 2,100 ft on each side. However, this square has been swiveled about 40 degrees counter clockwise from compass coordinates, the proper legal orientation. Why? Once again, the intent is to 'stack the deck' against any opposition and deny yet another group of opponents their right to be included in the protest area.

4. The Conditional Use Permit.

The CUP is a mechanism intended to provide a special exemption for a structure or activity that would not normally be a permissible land use in a zoned area. But without a comprehensive zoning plan, we have nothing guiding specific land uses anywhere in Ellis County, so the CUP can be abused by powerful landholders to put anything anywhere they want - provided they have a fix in with the zoning board. This abuse of the CUP contradicts the fundamental intent of zoning, which is to provide people with a reasonable expectation of future land uses in specific localities - before they buy their properties.

If this application is approved by our County Commission, it will create a very dangerous precedent, that of allowing CUPs for small plots of land drawn up at the whim of the applicant as to deny dissenting neighbors their legal right to protest. To issue a CUP for a small plot within a legal parcel flaunts the intent of zoning law because it allows any applicant to become, in effect, their own neighbor and circumvent the obligations they have to their real neighbors. What would prevent the same policy being applied to wind turbines? The county might well have to use tax dollars to defend such a decision in district court.

It is disturbingly evident that those leading our zoning board are not conducting zoning in the service of their community, but rather in the service of special interests. The people of Ellis County should stand up to Gene Bittel and Lance Russell and cry foul. It won’t be the first time either.

Citizens wishing to contact the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition about their rights or concerns regarding the cell phone tower in Victoria, the industrial wind complex proposed just south and west of Hays, or any other related environmental impact or rural zoning issue, may write to us at P.O. Box 464, Hays, KS 67601, or directly contact these individuals:

  • Tim Davis, Co-Chair of ECEAC, todavis{at}, 785-623-3590
  • John Schmeidler, ECEAC Co-Chair, jschmeidler{at}, 785-259-4314
  • Jacinta Faber, Media Liaison, 785-628-8817
Additionally, any Ellis Co. citizens concerned about this tower proposed in Victoria, Kansas, should make their opinions known by attending Ellis County Commission meetings (Commission Room at the Courthouse, 1204 Fort Street, Hays, Kansas), held every Monday, and the Ellis County Planning & Zoning Meetings, held every month. Concerned citizens should also write letters to their county commissioners directly by mailing to 1204 Fort Street, Hays, Kansas. The three current commissioners for Ellis County are:
  • Perry S Henman, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 1st District (City of Ellis, western Hays & western Ellis Co.)
  • Dennis J Pfannenstiel, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 2nd District (central Hays & central Ellis Co.)
  • Vernon L Berens, Chairman, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 3rd District (Victoria, eastern Hays, & eastern Ellis Co.): 785-735-9364, 785-735-2883

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Open Letter to Governor Kathleen Sebelius

(The following letter was submitted in October 2007 to the Governor of Kansas by J.P. Michaud, resident of Ellis County)

Dear Governor Sebelius,

I was encouraged to read yesterday in our local paper, the Hays Daily News, that your obligation to protecting the health and welfare of the people of Kansas was first and foremost in your mind in supporting the decision to deny the permits for Sunflower Electric's new coal plants.

However, I must ask why that same concern does not appear to extend to the more than 100 families in Ellis County whose, health, homes and livelihoods have been threatened by efforts to site a massive wind energy development inappropriately close to residential settlements.

You pointed out that only 15% of the energy generated by the proposed coal plants would be used by Kansas, while 85% would be sold out of state, while Kansas would bear 100% of the local environmental impact. The same is true for Iberdrola's (CPV Wind Hays) development in Ellis County. Local residents would see their local environment devastated, lose millions of dollars of real estate value, have their health threatened, their quality of life diminished and the scenic beauty of their community destroyed forever, only to have the bulk of the power and the profits exported.

I am not going to argue that wind energy is a huge corporate boondoggle for taxpayers, that it is the most expensive and inefficient form of electricity generation, that it cannot replace any conventional generation because of the fickle nature of wind, that it is only feasible because of massive tax incentives provided to foreign corporations, that wind turbines rarely operate long enough to recover the carbon footprint of their installation, etc, etc.

However, I am going to argue that wind energy has an undeniably large environmental footprint that demands appropriate sites be selected for wind turbines.

The state should not turn a blind eye when large scale energy generation of any kind is proposed in the wrong place as local governments have neither the resources nor the expertise to regulate developments of this magnitude.

The proposed site for Iberdrola's project was selected on the basis its proximity to power lines and the covert scheming of a handful of (mostly non-resident) landholders. There was no independent environmental impact study, no economic impact study, and no consideration given to the rights of neighboring landholders. Both our local zoning board and our county commission are rank with corruption and conflicts of interest that should be sufficient to convene a grand jury investigation.

They completely ignoring the interests of the community at large in the hopes of profiting their own families. Our recently adopted zoning regulations (imposed specifically to facilitate wind energy development) are so inadequate that they contain only 1.5 pages that supposedly 'regulate' wind energy development – compared to 26 pages on signs! Add to this the fact that we have absolutely no comprehensive plan for zoning as recommended by state guidelines and it is not surprising that David Yearout, a member of your own energy council, saw fit to remove himself from the process, so much of his template was deleted from our regulations.

I understand and applaud your commitment to renewable energy. However 'renewable' does not mean 'without impact' – either socially, economically or environmentally. All forms of energy generation have impacts and must be carefully sited so as to minimize these impacts on our population – not simply to maximize the profits of greedy developers.

On behalf of myself and the more than 750 signatories of the Ellis County Wind Farm Moratorium Petition, I request that you weigh in on this issue and defend the innocent families of Hays Ellis County who are now facing the imminent threat of a new application from Iberdrola, carefully gerrymandered to exclude a perfectly valid protest petition that defeated their initial application.

Please tell Iberdrola that, while we support wind energy, we value the health and welfare of our people even more. The wind blows just as hard across the 20 sections of vacant land in southeast Ellis County where almost nobody lives.


J.P. Michaud
1189 180th Ave.
Hays, Kansas

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wind energy will raise power bills

(submitted to Hays Daily News, Oct. 25)

I agree with Craig Volland (HDN Oct. 23) that power bills will be going up. However, I disagree when he says that "rates will increase less if we utilize our state's world class wind resources". In fact, nothing is going to raise our electricity rates faster than the installation of wind power. It is the most inefficient and overpriced form of power currently being flogged to consumers by 'green-posing' politicians and profit-hungry wind developers.

The real cost of wind power is staggering when you add it all up. Estimates indicate that it is 2.5-4.0 times more expensive than energy from conventional sources. But wind turbines must be sited where wind is suitable, rather than where power is needed, and 6% of that power is lost for every 100 miles it must travel to the end user. Distribution costs are also higher for wind power because more extensive power lines are required to connect it to the grid. Furthermore, the constantly fluctuating energy yield from wind is more expensive to integrate, raising the cost of grid management.

Higher costs might be socially acceptable if wind could actually replace coal-fired generation, but it can't. Wind power is unpredictable and will always require backup from a reliable, on-demand, source. The greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program referred to by Volland will provide wind power with yet another undeserved advantage over other forms of generation simply because there is no CO2 produced during its operation – this despite the hundreds of tons of CO2 released during the fabrication, transport and installation of each turbine.

Beyond the direct costs of wind power, we must also factor in the socio-economic and ecological costs. Foremost among these is the loss of property values, which reliable estimates suggest is about 30%, on average, for those unfortunate enough to become wind farm neighbors. Then there are many more costs that are difficult to quantify – the environmental and ecological impacts on vast tracts of land.

What price can we place on thousands of bats and soaring birds of prey destined to be sliced and diced by wind turbines? What monetary value can be assessed for lost quality of life, destruction of rural tranquility, noise pollution, and the unique human health risks associated with wind energy? These costs are all real and must be given due consideration whenever wind energy is compared to less environmentally intrusive forms of generation.

Due to deceptive government legislation, the high costs of wind power are being temporarily concealed from consumers in order to encourage its public acceptance. But don’t be fooled; power bills will rise dramatically in the next few years as government subsidies expire and utilities seek to recover the high maintenance costs associated with wind turbines. Almost half the capital cost of each turbine is the gearbox and current data from Germany indicate that these have a half life of less than five years. Within five years, wind developers will have run for cover with their 'windfall' profits and consumers will be left holding the bag – an industrial wasteland of decrepit monstrosities.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It would forever change who we are & how we would be viewed by others

Rod Bittel, life long resident of Ellis County, has written this letter:

The wind turbine complex controversy continues to divide our county. This conflict isn't about foreign oil or saving the planet -- it's about location and the proposed location is not suitable. This project covers 2.5 times the area of the city of Hays with 140 turbines that are 400 feet tall (approximately the size of the two cell phone towers you see south of Golf Course Road). The only thing suitable about this location is the financial gain for a few landowners, many who don't live in the area or even in this county. If you put the 100-plus families that live in the area of the proposed project first in the equation it is probably one of the worst locations in the county.

For those of us who call this area home, there are real worries about the documented health effects that may occur if such an industrial complex is built so close to our homes. There are concerns about safety during the building phase as well as from the turbines themselves after construction. There are fears about property and market values decreasing on the biggest investment that most of us have. Some claim that there is no proof to any of these concerns. We can provide ample documentation to show that the county is taking a huge risk if this project proceeds. To the doubters, we say we don't want to be the guinea pigs that find out whether the fears and concerns are real or not. It's simple, move the location of the turbines somewhere where there are not homes and eliminate the risks.

The effect on Hays also needs to be considered. Hays is recognized as a regional hub for medicine, education, commerce, retail, culture and the arts, which enhance our quality of life. What will locating an industrial complex with 140, 400 feet turbines so close to the largest growing city in northwest Kansas do? Will it hurt recruitment of professionals to the area? Will it send a negative message to businesses that are considering Hays? Some of our larger employers have made it clear that they think so. Will it hurt the historical nature of our area or stop future residential growth west of Hays? Will life long citizens of Ellis County move out because their homes and families are negatively impacted? Are these risks that we want to take?

We have stood our ground that this location is both bad and risky for those who live in the area and for the city of Hays. But by standing up for what we believe in, we have been called radicals, wackos, selfish, anti-environmentalists, terrorists, unpatriotic and, yes, even crazy Canadians. We would like to remind those name-callers who we are. We are teachers, nurses, farmers, geologists, ranchers, store and business owners, dental hygienists, therapists, office workers, psychologists, construction workers, your family members, home builders, mechanics, cooks, college professors, grade school, middle school, high school and college students, volunteer coaches, Girl Scout leaders, Sunday School teachers, occupational therapists, highway patrolman and social workers who work in your churches, social service agencies, stores, schools, hospitals, utility companies, governmental agencies, and take care of your children, your parents, the elderly, the sick and the disadvantaged in our county. We are woven into the fabric of what is Ellis County.

We should have never let a foreign owned company come between us and attempt to compromise our quality of life. Putting an industrial wind turbine complex with 140 turbines, 400 feet tall located just west of Hays would forever change who we are and how we would be seen.

Submitted by:
Rod Bittel
1101 Noose Road
Hays, Kansas

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Zoning is ‘give and take’

(submitted to Hays Daily News, October 13)

I want to commend Jo Kraus for some valid points she made in her recent letter, “Zoning issue could split county further”. I presume she means ‘further than the wind farm debacle already has’. I think she is quite correct that the majority of rural residents in Ellis County were against zoning because of concerns about their private interests and the potential loss of individual freedoms on their own lands.

The majority of land in Ellis County is zoned agricultural and Jo is also right that those who move out to live in such areas must accept agricultural activities. I must accept being showered with dust because one of my neighbors refuses to farm no-till and insists on tilling his land incessantly. I must accept herbicide drift onto my property when the wheat gets sprayed, and I must accept the bad smell of an oil well when the wind blows the wrong way. But these were all factors I was able to balance in my decision to buy my property, not something imposed on me after the fact.

However, rural residents are not obliged to accept living in the middle of an industrial park on agriculturally zoned land, just because someone wants to call it a wind ‘farm’. When they happened to be cash-poor, many land-wealthy farmers sold small tracts of land very profitably to townspeople on the promise of a quiet country lifestyle. Now some of these same farmers want to industrialize the surrounding landscape for their personal gain, effectively destroying the value of what they have already sold. Who can have sympathy for them?

Like it or not, we now have zoning in Ellis County, albeit without majority support, and without any form of comprehensive plan to guide it. But zoning does provide people with something in return for surrendering those formerly limitless freedoms – a measure of protection from their neighbors. As one of the architects of zoning, we should thank Jo for leaving us recourse to a formal protest petition, the one legal mechanism that can prevent people from profiting at the expense of their neighbors.

However, it is widely predicted that a new application by Krista Gordon and company will judiciously alter the wind project boundaries so as to exclude the protest petition and subject a large number of property owners to a noxious development they have already overwhelmingly rejected using a valid legal tool. After all, they know who we are, they know where we live, and they need only pull back 1001 feet from our property lines to be technically within the letter of the law.

The letter of the law perhaps, but certainly not the spirit of the law. We can only hope that our County Commission will honor the spirit of zoning law and the legal result of the protest petition when (not if) Iberdrola returns asking for a waiver of the one year waiting period to submit their new application. Based on the previous performance of Berens and Pfannenstiel, I’m betting they won’t, but I sincerely hope they prove me wrong.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What's going on behind closed doors?

From Jeanne Riedel, Ellis County resident:

Why are Vernon Berens, Dennis Pfannenstiel and the wind proponents so against having a moratorium?

In Dana Kraus' letter he spoke of how wind moving up a slope increases speed and that the entire site has this slope which is good for building a wind complex. Would waiting a year to study the effects of wind turbines in Ellis County change the slope? I don't think so.

But if that is what the proponents of the wind complex are afraid of, then what good would it be to build one on the proposed site?

If waiting a year is going to change things, then that means this area isn't as good as they are leading people to believe.

Dana Kraus also said that wind resource has been researched for almost four years in this area. So would one more year really make any difference? What is the rush to push this through without a comprehensive plan for the county? What is the rush to possibly put people in danger? Why don't we research the information further in regard to the sound and health issues? Why do Berens, Pfannenstiel and the wind proponents want to sweep this under the rug like it doesn't exist? For the wind turbines not causing any problems, the compensation letter made mention of them and tried to put sugar-coating on our concerns.

Those of us who are against the wind complex have been made to feel like naughty children. We are supposed to sit back and let the proponents do whatever they like for the "good" of the county. I don't think this is in the best interest of the county and that is why I feel there should be a moratorium even though Vernon Berens rejects this idea.

My question is: Why? What is going on behind closed doors with this international corporation who is looking out for its own interests? Iberdrola doesn't care about the people of Ellis County. They only want the money they can make off of this project.

Iberdrola wants to buy our silence with the so-called compensation package. Does anyone else think it's odd that those compensation letters came out on the same day that the commissioners voted on the project? Also, The Hays Daily needs to get its facts straight. We don't have until Dec. 31 to sign the compensation package. We have until Oct. 5, and they need to be signed and postmarked on or before that date. If the project isn't approved by Dec. 31, then the compensation packages are null and void.

What do they have planned, a waiver perhaps?

I just don't understand why Berens, Pfannenstiel and the wind proponents don't want a moratorium. The people of Ellis County need to ask that question also. Could it be that they don't want people to find out that this wind complex isn't about saving the planet and that it really just boils down to dishonesty and greed? Interesting that there is just one letter difference between green and greed.

Submitted by:
Jeanne Riedel
1530 Yocemento Ave.
Hays, Kansas

Why Ellis County needs a comprehensive plan

From Angie Grant, resident of Ellis County:

The fundamental premise of zoning is that particular land uses are appropriate for certain locations, but not for others. Thus a zoning board designates districts for particular uses: agricultural, commercial, industrial, residential, etc., based on recognition of the simple fact that such uses are very often incompatible with one another. Commercial development brings traffic, industrial development brings pollution, and neither should be allowed to encroach on residential areas where they would reduce the value of people's homes and diminish their quality of life.

The state of Kansas encourages the development of a comprehensive plan by all counties that adopt zoning. A zoning board without a comprehensive plan is like a train without rails to guide it. It quickly becomes a train wreck because it has no clear objectives and no guidelines to follow.

Zoning regulations are merely tools for advancing the comprehensive plan. They are supposedly written with a comprehensive plan in mind. To write zoning regulations without such a plan is to invite the institution of regulations that serve private interests rather than the public good.

This is precisely what has happened in Ellis County.

The purpose of a comprehensive plan is to provide a carefully deliberated vision of the future for the whole community and guidelines for development of all types, not just wind energy. It is a document that guides appropriate land use patterns for the public good. If any public official, appointed or elected, is opposed to the development of a comprehensive plan, this should raise a huge red flag in the minds of all citizens.

These people must either have something to lose from adopting responsible guidelines for community development or they must be hoping to gain something at the expense of the public good.

Vernon Berens and Dennis Pfannenstiel are not just county commissioners. They are also citizens of our community who must live and walk among us.

I call on everyone who cares about the future of Hays and Ellis County to pursue these two men, either on the phone at home or in person at the supermarket, and please ask each one this question:

"Why do you oppose the development of a comprehensive plan?"

Submitted by:
Angie Grant
1189 180th Ave.
Hays, Kansas

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Rural Residents Should Attend County Commission Meetings

We have all heard reasons why we should vote. For example, if you don’t vote, then you don’t have a right to complain when things in government don't go your way. The same goes for attending local public hearings.

Given that Ellis County now has county-wide zoning, it is increasingly important that rural residents attend both Zoning Board meetings and County Commission meetings. It is the best way to find out about changes in local government that could affect your family's health, property, and quality of life – assuming these things matter to you. It is also the best way to ensure that both elected and appointed officials act responsibly. The best way to keep them honest is to let them know they are being watched and their actions carefully monitored.

Unfortunately, too few of our citizens attend these meetings. I must admit I have been equally remiss in this regard until recently. Apathy and lack of public attention emboldens political corruption. This was quite apparent to me when I attended Monday's meeting of the County Commission.

Despite well-supported arguments by citizens requesting a temporary moratorium on wind energy applications, and a substantial petition from county residents, the motion by Perry Henman for such a moratorium failed to be seconded. The reasons given by Commissioners Berens and Pfannenstiel for not supporting this motion were essentially non-existent. "We don't need a moratorium because we have a zoning board and we have zoning regulations."

Never mind that the regulations are completely inadequate and do nothing to regulate wind energy development or protect the environment and the citizens. Never mind that David Yearout's recommendations were completely ignored, even though he was paid by the county to guide zoning. Never mind that we don’t have a comprehensive plan to guide development of any kind within the county, in line with the expectations of our state government. Never mind that the current zoning board is, by and large, completely unqualified and beset with glaring conflicts of interest. Never mind that they are leaving the county legally vulnerable to an expensive lawsuit.

These things don’t seem to matter to Berens and Pfannenstiel. No, they cast their lot with the 'windy' developers – Krista Gordon and the Kraus family – more than two years ago. Apparently, they have far too much to gain for themselves and their friends to heed any community concerns, no matter how valid. The smell of corruption is rank in Ellis County and these commissioners appear to be counting on local apathy to grant them a license to do as they please. It is time for all rural residents of Ellis county to rise up in indignation, start attending these meetings, and start reminding these officials that they were elected to act in the interest of all citizens, not just their political cronies.

J.P. Michaud
1189 180th Ave.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How much is free?

From Penny Davis, Ellis County resident:

As I was reflecting on Iberdrola’s offer of “free electricity” to the many landowners living with the effects of but not profiting from the proposed turbines, I was reminded of a saying I once heard, “when it sounds too good to be true, the cost is hidden”. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. Likewise, I wonder how much this “free” electricity going to cost my family?

To begin with, I must point out that the offer really isn't for free electricity. Consistent with our experience of Iberdrola’s behavior in this project, there is much more to know than they are publicly disclosing. The offer is actually based on the month’s electricity bill prior to signing the contract. For instance, if we sign in October, we will be paid a set amount per month, based on our bill in September. This, of course, will not work out to “free” electricity. This year has been a particularly cool year and we didn’t run our air conditioning in September at all. Even in more normal years, the months of May through August typically dwarf the bills of September through April. Therefore the actual reimbursement will be far less than our annual electricity cost.

More to the issue at hand, when they finally delivered this offer (months after announcing it and after the commission vote), they had not discussed it with us or other landowners in the area. If they had taken the time to actually work with us, they would have discovered we don’t want their money. As it stands, even a genuine offer of free electricity will cost us more than we can afford to pay.

What we want from Iberdrola is assurance they will stand by their word. We need assurance that the turbines will not harm our children. We want assurance that they will not devastate our finances by making our largest singe investment (our home) less valuable or desirable on the market. We want assurance that we will not be subjected to daily annoyances that have driven others living with turbines out of their homes. We need assurance that they will not destroy the quality of life for which we paid a premium and searched for years to be able to acquire. This assurance, however, is something they refuse to offer. Instead, Iberdrola asks us to do the opposite by signing away all our assurance in order to receive the “free electricity”.

They tell everyone that all of the things we fear, things such as health effects, noise, flicker, property devaluation, etc, are not real concerns. Meanwhile, they ask us to sign a document giving them the right to do these things (and more) to us in exchange for “free electricity”. All we want is a guarantee that what they tell everyone is true. Instead, they make us an offer we can’t possibly afford to take and present it as being neighborly.

If Iberdola is trustworthy, they should simply do what most manufacturers do when selling a quality product, offer a guarantee. If everything they are telling the community about the project and the turbines is true, they can keep their “free electricity”, increase their profits and offer more money to the county. The residents living with the turbines will have assurance they will not be destroyed by the project. Everyone wins.

Of course, if the Commissioners are wise, they will ask Iberdrola for a similar guarantee that this choice of location will not harm the County or the city of Hays . If they do, my bet is that Iberdrola will refuse, as they have refused to assure the people living with their proposed project. Instead, they’ll encourage the county to waive what legal protections they have, all in exchange for “free” money. Then if the project is approved, we’ll all pay the long term cost of what was sold to us as “free”.

Submitted by:
Penny Davis
Hays, KS

Why so worked up, Snookums?

From Paul Faber, Ellis County resident:

My phone rang. “Hold that thought, Rudy,” I said, “I have to take this call. It’s my wife, and you of all people should understand that.” Chuckle, chuckle.

“Hi, Honey. You sound upset.” Covering the speaker, I said to Rudy, “Rudy, this may take a while. Help yourself to some nuts.”

Back to my better half. “Oh, you were at the county commission meeting. Now calm down and tell me what happened. Keith Pfannenstiel and John Schmeidler spoke. That’s nice. What did they talk about? Ah, the moratorium again. Yes again. They asked for a year’s moratorium to allow time to establish a comprehensive plan and fix the zoning regulations before any big industry comes into Ellis County? I see. Makes sense, so what’s the problem?

“Oh, Commissioner Vernon Berens thinks that our zoning regulations are fine, at least as long as you can recognize that there is no such thing as perfect zoning regulations. Sweetie, you are getting way too upset. Remember what your doctor said. Yes, Dear, I understand that stating the obvious does not excuse one from correcting the problem.

“Wow! Someone from the crowd shouted out that the zoning board was a joke.”

Winking at Rudy, I mouthed, “I know you deal with hecklers all the time.” I switched to the speaker phone so that Rudy could hear how we deal with hecklers in Ellis County.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you said. What was Mr. Berens comeback?”

“He said that the zoning commission was not a joke,” she said.

“Great comeback. I bet that quieted the crowd,” I said, giving Rudy the thumbs-up sign. “Honey, Rudy is getting all newyorky on us. He thinks that a public servant in an elected position should say something like ‘What reason do you have for calling the commission a joke?’ Or ‘Can you give me an example of what you mean?’ or something like that.”

“Well, even though no one asked, the audience guy gave him his reasons,” said the sweet voice on the speaker phone. “He said that one board member threatened to resign if the commissioners voted down the conditional-use permit for the wind project and then the next thing you know he’s the chairman of the zoning commission. In the same meeting, another board member pushed hard for his own step-dad to receive a conditional-use permit for a gravel pit and succeeded. You’d think that a conflict of interest is a vice, but instead they made him the vicechair.”

Now Rudy is giving me the thumbs up!

“Yes, Pumpkin, that most certainly does sound like a conflict of interest. Did you take your pill yet?”

“Keith talked about appointing an independent committee,” she continued, “so they could write the comprehensive plan for our county - a committee with no ulterior motives, which is not like in the case of the wind project, where zoning commissioners had family ties to leaseholders who would stand to profit big time from the wind project. Keith also pointed out how David Yearout, a hired zoning consultant for Ellis County, was paid $16,000 to help the zoning commission, which was appointed by Mr. Berens and Commissioner Vernon Pfannenstiel, to write the regulations. But when Mr. Yearout recommended that they start with a comprehensive plan and use the plan as the foundation for writing the regulations the way normal folk do, the commission declined to take his advice. “

“Hey, Bunny Love, it’s a free country, don’t make yourself sick over it. Sugar, I need to get back to Rudy.”

I noticed that Rudy had begun to fidget with my Enron paperweight embossed with the words, “Glory Days.”

“Is there anything else?” I asked.

“Well, the commissioner Mr. Pfannenstiel, in response to commissioner Mr. Henman’s request for a moratorium, moved that the commissioners abolish county-wide zoning. He said that without the county-wide zoning we wouldn’t have this issue.”

“That’s leadership,” Rudy said to me.

“Does Mr. Pfannenstiel remember,” love-ums continued, “way back in the first zoning commission meeting for public comment on the wind project, the first words spoken by Krista Jo Gordon, the project manager, were ‘We do not go into counties which are not zoned.’ So what does Mr. Pfannenstiel mean? Does he mean that today we would have a wind industry next to our home or that we wouldn’t have it? Oh, who knows? All I know is that we need a comprehensive plan and soon!”

“OK! OK!” I interrupted. “Now remind me — what is a comprehensive plan?” I attempted unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. “OK. So without a comprehensive plan, the county can put turbines, swine or even a dirty sock factory on my beloved golf course.

“Wait a second, are you saying that we don’t have a plan at all? What do you mean ‘chill’?”

Submitted by:
Paul Faber
Hays, Kansas

Monday, October 1, 2007

Over 700 Ellis County Residents Have Asked Ellis County Commissioners for a Moratorium

(The following appeal for a moratorium was presented in person at the Ellis County Commissioners meeting by Keith Pfannenstiel, Ellis County resident, October 1, 2007)

I have asked to be put on the agenda today requesting a hold on any new applications for wind development. Also to call for a moratorium with an impartial committee, to propose a comprehensive plan and rewrite proper zoning regulations, to ensure Hays and Ellis county at large will not be financially hurt. This independent committee is the way zoning should have been implemented in the first place. Not by appointed people who also want to serve on the zoning board and insure their own financial gain.

There are plenty of well educated people in Ellis county who are not close friends or business partners of the commissioners. Not county employees looking for recognition or possibly a salary increase, not family members or landowners with lease agreements who stand to profit directly from turbine placement. This also would exclude any person who has publicly or privately contacted any wind developer for interest in future personal gain or their land.

Commissioners, our zoning board members don't even know what their roles are.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong. Ellis county said they hired zoning consultant, David Yearout, for approximately $16,000 to guide a committee appointed by you, in devising a zoning plan for consideration of adoption to protect this county. Two of you implemented this zoning against over whelming disapproval.

According to Mr. Yearout, Ellis county refused to take his advice of starting with a comprehensive plan and proper wind and zoning regulations. I believe he offered wind regulations of nearly 30 pages. I don't want to hear that zoning is a "work in progress". That only works if you start with adequate regulations. Anything less is an excuse and dreadfully dangerous.

Commissioners, I find it very hard to believe that a professional zoning consultant, who truthfully specializes in zoning for wind development, and knowing Ellis county was per suing wind energy, would risk not advising this county to require one single study. Especially knowing that an approval letter for wind energy had been sent out. My guess, is that any place else would have had a grand jury investigation.

So, unless you have conflicting interests, this moratorium is needed for more than one reason.

It is time you commissioners admit that zoning is far from where it should be and that it needs to be revised completely.

Proof of this mess showed up last Wednesday night again at the zoning meeting. A large number of good people and families in Victoria are being divided because of an inadequate zoning system that was manipulated and sacrificed from the beginning.

Today, I am personally asking there be a motion made for a moratorium. 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. This only pulls back the boundaries to try and eliminate the protest petition forcing it into Ellis county without any studies or guarantees.

There are over 700 signatures requesting a moratorium.

It's time to do it right!

Presented in person by:
Keith Pfannenstiel
Resident of Ellis County, Kansas

Sunday, September 23, 2007

No one wants to live right next to turbines, especially not in town

Submitted by Betty Dinges, resident of Ellis County:

Last week, I was visiting with some friends who live in town, and they let me know they are "tired of hearing and reading about the wind farm." I guess I have been a bit obsessed about it since I live west of Hays.

But I wonder if the town people would give it some thought if they found out some foreign company had offered the city commissioners a chunk of dough to put these turbines in town. Maybe one on each school playground; a few on the beautiful lawns in front of Hays Medical Center; some on the soccer fields, and surely, Seven Hills Park could handle three or four. No matter the change of scenery, the noise and the health problems they might cause.

Oh yes, and for the person on Lawrence Drive who so looks forward to listening to the "soft woosh" and watching the blades turn in the wind: They must put one closer to her house. If she thinks the sound she would hear clear over there would be a "soft woosh," she surely wouldn't mind hearing the sounds we would be hearing so much closer.

Of course, this can never happen, and the people who live in town won't be affected by the wind farm west of Hays -- or will they?

Betty Dinges
1113 Stonecrest
Hays, Kansas

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where is our moratorium?

Submitted to Hays Daily News, Sept. 20, by J.P. Michaud.

Opponents of the proposed wind energy project west of Hays went to great effort and expense to collect more than 700 signatures petitioning for a moratorium on wind energy development until adequate assessments of environmental, economic, and medical impacts can be conducted by suitably qualified, independent experts – as opposed to blindly accepting the propaganda of those with vested financial interests in the project.

Surely no one can argue that this is an unreasonable request. So what could possibly give county commissioners pause in proceeding in this direction? After all, fewer than 400 signatures of registered voters are required to recall a county commissioner, or to petition a grand jury to investigate political corruption and conflicts of interest on the part of appointed or elected public officials.

A moratorium is not saying 'NO' to wind energy. It is simply a temporary stay of proceedings to permit the gathering of information by qualified individuals, the development of adequate regulations to protect the community, and a sober, unbiased assessment of all the consequences.

The alternative is a hasty and ill-advised rush forward without adequate information or sufficient analysis of consequences. Were our County Commission to consider entertaining an early reapplication by Iberdrola, gerrymandered to circumvent a perfectly valid protest petition, it would be cause for serious concern about the depth and breadth of political corruption in Ellis county, not to mention setting the stage for a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

It cannot be denied by anyone that the current zoning regulations are little more than a blank check for Iberdrola to do as they please on 10,000 acres. They consist of language designed to facilitate, rather than regulate wind energy and they were installed by Lance Russell and Jo Kraus specifically to benefit their family – not Ellis County. These regulations are so pathetically inadequate that even David Yearout, the state counsel sent to advise Ellis County on such matters, and incidentally a member of the governor's task force promoting wind energy, found it necessary to remove himself from any association with them.

So I ask again, where is our moratorium?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wind Industrialization Located Too Close to Hays Would Harm the Economic Growth of Hays

Letter from Jody Pfannenstiel, resident of Ellis County, Kansas

Recent claims have been stated in the The Hays Daily News claiming the majority of Ellis County support the current industrial wind development. On what basis are these claims made? Has this entire debate really just come down to "because I said so"?

Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous amount of confusion and misguided information circulating about the project in the effort to secure public support. Virtually no attention has been paid to full disclosure or fact-finding.

Iberdrola has put out a lot of misleading information to secure their project.

They, of course, have massive profit at stake. Yet the citizens of Ellis County have been left to make up their minds based on this information alone without any independent study. Reminds me of the old advertising poster that read; "Four out of five doctors smoke Camels!"

In order to make an informed decision, interested citizens require at bare minimum the following: a comprehensive land use plan and independent projections of the economic growth of Hays. I am at a complete loss as to how we can make this decision responsibly without any real study of question.

As we look back over the last 35 years of Ellis County history, we can project huge problems ahead if we allow this development this close to our city.

Imagine, what if 35 years ago turbines were placed north of the interstate? This area was roughly the same distance from town then as the proposed project is today. Has this been allowed, we could forget Wal-Mart, Home Depot and everything else in one of the most economically important areas of our city today.

We don't have to stop there however, look east down 27th Street, 35 years ago, you would not have found the Sternberg Museum, Edward Jones, the nursing homes, dental offices and beautiful homes that now occupy that area. More economic growth vaporized by turbines.

Thirty-five years ago, these pasture areas were vacant and available. Had we filled them with something as short-sighted as a wind development, we would have lost millions in additional growth potential. If we could go back in time and purpose wind turbines in those areas knowing what they contribute today, how many people would actually vote for them?

Similarly, if we allow this project this close to town, what development we will never envision or realize in place of a project that could easily have been sited elsewhere? At the very least, this area of 20,000 acres of prime development land deserves and demands independent study to ensure that the $600,000 per year will not cost us millions annually in lost potential.

Why hasn't this been done? That question should deeply concern the citizens of Ellis County. Based on my research, I think we will find a much different picture than the one being sold to us. I have yet to find a single community that can verify an economic boom as promised to them by the likes of Iberdrola.

Now, since imaginary figures have played such a crucial role in this debate, allow me a few of my own projections, based on the people I drink coffee with:

  • One hundred percent of the people of Ellis County believe they should be presented with unbiased facts and figures to decide their vote.

  • One hundred percent of them want to know what the hidden risks of such a development are before it is approved.

  • One hundred percent also want to know if there has been any underhanded political dealings to avoid rewarding unethical behavior.

Lastly, 100 percent of people in Ellis County are positive that if this project is approved and things go bad because of the poor choice of location, poor regulation and planning and shady political dealings, no one will step forward to take the blame.

Submitted by:
Jody Pfannenstiel
974 Mount Pleasant
Hays, Kansas

We Commend Perry Henman for Voting No on the Wind Farm Zoning Application

Perry Henman (County Commissioner) stood up to the financial bullies and did what is best for Ellis County. He was not persuaded by greed, nor did he act only on possible financial gains. He did what he knows is right. He knows our zoning commission didn't do their job in preparing for this kind of industrialization, so he didn't allow our other commissioners to rush us into something our county is not properly prepared for. We need a moratorium established to put in place proper guidelines first before we progress with something of the magnitude of this wind turbine complex. We also need to respect the rights of all property owners and search for a location better suited for our entire community. Perry Henman understands this, and he should be highly commended. (From: Bruce Rupp, Hays, Kansas)

I am not against wind energy in Ellis County, my concern has always been about location, health and safety issues. The wind blows as much in the southwest corner of the county. Thank you Mr. Henman, for voting with a clear mind, not one clouded by dollar signs and after weighing all the concerns and issues. Apparently, the protest petition was not a concern of the other two commissioners. (From: A.J. Pfannenstiel, 840 150th Ave., Hays, Kansas)

I applaud Perry Henman's courage, strength and intestinal fortitude (guts) to stand up for what he believes. How much easier it would have been to cave in to peer pressure?(Terri Rupp, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

I think Perry Henman was right on with his decision. We need to step back and do this right, the regulations that are currently in place are simply not adequate. And the thought of signing off now and negotiating later is a travesty waiting to happen. There can be wind energy in Ellis County if it's done right. Tammy Deterding, resident of Ellis County, Kansas

It was probably the wisest thing to do at this point. It would be foolish to sign a contract and then negotiate the terms. Patrick Lowry, did you negotiate wages before or after you took the job? Let's get a moratorium on this until we can have more than 1 1/2 pages to protect us. Rewrite the zoning on industrial wind before we proceed. (from Paul Wildeman, Ellis County, Kansas)

Perry Henman is a man of honesty and courage.¬He is looking out for the better welfare of the community as a whole. The other two commissioners were very very wrong to take the bribe offered to them. Why are they so gullible and naive, when it comes to Krista Gordon's lies? For example, she said that the turbines will be worth the same value 20 years from now as scrap material. "The motor can be sold as a motor and the blades as blades." What a joke that is and what a big fat lie. It is so sad that the other two commissioners can not think for themselves and actually listen with healthy skepticism. (from Angie Grant, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

Please do not blame Perry Henman. Blame the three county commissioners and the zoning committee that forced countywide zoning down our throats with no respect for the voice of the people. These three men and the committee chairman knew that the wind-farm people would not come in unless county wide zoning was put in place. Had they disclosed their agenda at the very beginning many of these issues could have been worked out and the wind-farm issue would have passed. Instead they upset the masses and we grouped together to oust the sitting commissioners. Perry did nothing more than upset a house of cards that was built on a foundation of deceit and hidden agendas. Perry Henman did not just represent a few hundred people who were against the wind farm, he represented thousands of us who were against the way the old commissioners shoved countywide zoning down our throat. Blame the old commissioners and the biased zoning committee for the defeat of the wind farm. Their total disregard for the will of the people led to their defeat and also the defeat of the wind farm, which would have been a good thing for the county. Let us all hope that the new county regulations are built with a true agenda rather than a hidden agenda. (from Jason Dinges, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

I applaud Perry Henman for having the insight, integrity and intelligence to prevent this county from getting into a train wreck.¬Now let's make a comprehensive plan with proper and adequate zoning regulations to protect everyone in this county. I despise CPV / Iberdrola (the for profit company from Spain) for what they have done to this county and its people. And by the way, if there are so many people in favor of this industrial project. Then why were there never more than 10 to 20 supporters at their support meetings? (from Bob Goodrow, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

Mr. Henman did nothing but vote what he felt to be right in his heart. That means¬he has one. Even a jury has the right and the duty to acquit if there is reasonable doubt. This project, as well as the zoning process that brought us to this point, has holes the size of craters. We call that reasonable doubt. Mr. Henman did Ellis County a service by slowing down what might well prove to be a disaster for the county. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by¬making decisions on something of this magnitude count, and by¬making sure it's the right thing for the right location. Our hats are off¬to you, Mr. Henman. Thank you for feeling compassion for the opponents living in the project area who've been made to feel their concerns are worthless all along. At least someone was listening. We thank you. (from Jim and Luanne Kramer, residents of Ellis County)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Obvious to the Oblivious

"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him." -Leo Tolstoy

For some time now our community has been locked in battle over a proposed wind development on the outskirts of Hays. In full disclosure, I too have been involved in this debate and am decidedly against the location presently under consideration.

One of the most astounding things about the industrial wind debate in Ellis County is the polarization which has occurred. Polarization has been evident since the debate emerged in the public eye several months ago. Since the Commission vote, it seems to have intensified. Meanwhile, Iberdrola completely ignores the invitation to engage in an open community discussion, and the division rages on.

When reading the evidence concerning industrial wind power, it becomes quickly apparent that conclusions are mixed at best. There may be positive aspects of industrial wind generation but these benefits are very often offset by poor planning and placement. It also bears mentioning that the issues surrounding industrial wind projects are complex and difficult to sort out. That however does not excuse us from our responsibility to wrestle with the dissonance.

As such, I have been struggling to make sense of various claims and positions of some of my fellow citizens on both sides of this debate. Recently however, as I read an opinion piece in the HDN, the admonitions of my research dissertation chair began to reverberate loudly in my head, “BEWARE OF SELECTION BIAS”.

Regardless of which side a person is on in this debate, it seems that he or she has all the evidence on their side. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. Of course it is also apparent that their claims are biased. More specifically they reflect a particular type of selection bias known as “confirmation bias”. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek information that only supports your position while ignoring data that contradicts it. Therefore, you seek only what you want, and find it every time.

Confirmation bias explains a tremendous amount of what has occurred in this debate. It is evident that this “my side” bias accelerates polarization and distortion of logic. As just one of many examples, project proponents claim that a wide majority of perhaps 80% of the county populace supports them. On what basis do they make these claims? It’s simple really, because they associate with people that share their views, look for evidence that supports that view and discount the evidence that doesn’t fit well with their position. To be fair, there is a slim chance that 80% do agree with them, but they don’t know this and they display no intention to find out. It’s like saying “I have made up my mind already, so don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Even the most touted aspects of this proposal are wrought with confirmation bias. The economic impact questions are far from known. Those for the project are convinced it will be positive, while those against it, argue more will be lost than gained. Ask either side and you’ll hear an “irrefutable” answer that just so happens to agree with them.

This bias is so rampant that logic bears no burden in carrying even the most basic questions. It is nearly impossible to effectively argue (when considering all the issues) that the proposed location of this industrial development is the best location available in Ellis County. Other wind projects are almost always placed in isolated or economically declining areas. This project is proposed next to the only growing city in northwest Kansas. This obvious problem does not trouble those committed to this wind development. They skirt the issue entirely, try and confuse the issue by injecting arguments not related to the question and engage in defensive posturing, all in the effort to avoid challenging their pre-existing bias and thereby risk their personal interest.

As the interested parties of one side or the other bicker over who possesses the correct information regarding this proposed wind development, the real travesty continues unabated. While it may be academically interesting to posit who is right, the independent data that would support an unbiased answer to that question has never been collected. Meanwhile, the county commission is busy determining what will actually happen.

Though the vote has been taken and the project declined, Iberdrola vows to push on, in the effort to have this development approved. Many feel this decision is the most important decision Ellis County will face in our lifetimes. With these stakes, we should demand our decision makers base this decision on unbiased information collected by independent scientific study. We must demand a moratorium on this and future applications in order to take the time necessary to candidly study the impacts of developments this large on the city of Hays and the outlying county. This objective information can then be utilized to create a comprehensive land use plan, and reform the various zoning regulations that fail to support this plan. With this new vision and regulation, we can finally rest knowing that the true purpose of zoning, to protect all the citizens of Ellis County, is our authentic goal.

As it stands, two commissioners have signed letters of support fully two years prior to the application and subsequent public discussion. If they continue to deliberate, they do so without the benefit of a single independent study to shed light on even one of the many questions of this development. Without a comprehensive plan, better regulations and impartial information to inform the questions of this project, what will guide their decision? You guessed it, confirmation bias.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Open Letter

This is a reposting of an open letter to two of the county commissioners (originally posed September 8). It has been reposted in an attempt to overcome a formatting problem.

Dear Mr. Berens, and Mr.Pfannenstiel,

I am writing to express my disappointment in the both of you. You may be surprised for the reasons why I am disappointed. It was not because you voted in support of the conditional use permit for the wind plant. It was for the poor reasoning behind your decision.

First I want to address Mr. Berens. I called you on many occasions over the last six months and each time with the exception of the last time, which was approximately a week before the vote, you would assure me that you were listening to my concerns and you would consistently respond with “right idea, wrong location.” You made the statement, “these things should not be shoved down people’s throats.” When I suggested that the old Walker Air Base with its hyper-cultivated land be used for an industrial wind plant, you countered with “that is only four miles from Victoria and that is too close.” When I responded with “imagine the turbines being only 2000 feet from your home,” you agreed it was too close.

But the last time I spoke with you, you changed your tone. You repeatedly said that you liked the 2000 foot setback. Do I understand you correctly that you would now agree that turbines could and should be placed 2000 feet from Victoria? A picket fence of towers and turbines 2000 feet out and surrounding your town would make a statement that you are willing to sacrifice for your country. Of course I am being facetious, but I question why you would be willing to sacrifice our health, peace, and property values while your health, peace, and property values will remain unaffected.

Please do not dismiss your unintentional or intentional deception of the many people you spoke with as politics as usual. I believe this is about personal character. If you intentionally deceived the people you serve, that would be a blot on your character for the obvious reasons. If this was unintentional, then one would believe you truly were not listening to our concerns, which is disturbing in its own right. Or maybe when you signed the letter of approval for this project back in 2005, which placed the turbines even closer to homes and without any discussion with those who would be most affected, you saw no reason to look back and our fate was sealed.

Though you may not be listening to me, I am listening to you and am concerned about what I am hearing. You claimed that bargaining with Iberdrola can take place after approving the conditional use permit. What sense does this make? Would you not be playing right into Iberdrola’s hands? I hope this was a misunderstanding on my part.

Finally, you mentioned that you spoke with the Kansas Energy Commission. In the State of The State 2007, Governor Sebelius did mention wind energy goals with wind providing 10% of our electricity by 2010 and 20% by 2020. However, Governor Sebelius spent much more time expressing her concern for the health of Kansans. There is real truth to “right idea, wrong location” unless the goal is to increase vibro-acoustic disease by 10% in 2010 and wind turbine syndrome by 20% by 2020.

Now I would like to address Mr. Pfannenstiel. You have made light of our health concerns despite the fact that the French Academy of Medicine made a strong statement in 2006 recommending that modern wind turbines should be placed no closer than 1.5 kilometers from residences due to the health problems they create. The United Kingdom Noise Association in 2007 concluded that a safe buffer zone of at least 2km should exist between family dwellings and industrial wind turbines of up to 2MW installed capacity, with greater separation for a wind turbine greater than 2MW installed capacity If you review present day regulations for siting industrial wind plants in the United States, plans are becoming increasingly comprehensive and restrictive as more data is becoming available concerning noise and health issues. Today, I just received news that some more of Dr. Nina Pierpont’s research on wind turbine syndrome will be published in 2008 in a professional journal. Even though the research is becoming clearer, there is some uncertainty about the extent of the health effects. Surely it is more reasonable to err on the side of safety. I am afraid your attitude reminds me of a hunter who sees some movement off in the distance and says, “maybe it’s a deer or maybe it’s a human, so I’ll shoot. Hang the consequences.”

Finally, my family and I received an offer of a “Wind Farm Neighbor Agreement” in the mail the day of the commission meeting. I consider this offer a bribe to keep us from telling others about the negative impact 400 foot turbines can have on humans living close to them similar to the agreement and payment for those in Spearville. The prairie chickens were excluded from this offer because, as you know, chickens can’t talk.

As both of you know, Iberdrola cannot re-submit their application for a year, unless you make a special exception for them. There is research to be read and flaws to be corrected, so all of us probably need at least that year. I urge you, therefore, to learn from your mistakes and take the year to do all of the research that we need you to do.

Jacinta Faber