Saturday, May 26, 2007

Government by the People

The following was first submitted to by Jim Leiker, native of Ellis County and current resident of Overland Park, Kansas, to the Hays Daily News in May 2007:

Having made no decision and trying to stay open-minded, I attended Wednesday’s hearing to hear the pros and cons of the wind project.

Though I grew up in Antonino, I now live mostly in the Kansas City area. I still own property in Ellis County, none of which lies in the affected area, so I have no vested interest either way and thus probably have as objective an opinion as can be found.

I’ve always been an advocate of wind energy, seeing it as a major step in declaring this country’s independence from fossil fuel. I wish it was better regulated and that the consequences for wildlife were better known.

Personally, I have no aesthetic objection to massive wind towers but I can see why others do; they are the same objections that Indians once had about railroads, or that old farmers in the 1920s had about gaspowered tractors, or for that matter, that I have always had about the stink and noise of oil wells. If people can learn to live with one annoying new technology, they can do so with another.

Two concerns, however, stop me from embracing this proposal wholeheartedly, the first being an apparent lack of discussion of alternate sites. Why here? There is plenty of land in Ellis County where the turbines could be positioned without inconveniencing so many neighbors.

There are ample spaces south of Ellis, or near the Saline, where human habitation is minimal, although whatever the location, landowners will have to be fairly compensated. Of course, locating in such remote areas would be more expensive, so is this really about improving the company’s bottom line?

But more importantly, I’m concerned about the aura of secrecy in which this seems to have been conceived, with easements having been signed over the past few years, and affected homeowners only informed a few months before the deal is closed.

There has clearly been no grassroots effort to sell this project through open, transparent dialogue.

These are the same sneaky tactics employed by corporate hog farms and meatpacking firms in southwest Kansas to subvert local democracy. It saddens me to think that wind developers, who have such potential to lead energy reform, are using the same methods as the worst environmental despoilers.

In Wyandotte and Johnson counties where I spend most of my time, families and communities are constantly uprooted to make way for racetracks, highways, subdivisions and strip malls, all in the name of economic development. And once the initial glow wears off and consumers take their money elsewhere seeking the newest thrill, all that urban sprawl becomes urban blight. One of the reasons I return to Ellis County whenever possible is precisely because it has so far resisted all that.

If wind technology comes to Ellis County, let it do so on terms favorable to the majority of people who live here.

I say the present project be scrapped and that county authorities appoint a special commission consisting of farmers and environmentalists, with both local and outside experts, to work with this firm — which has a right to expect a reasonable profit — in finding alternate locations. We can’t close our eyes to progress but we can guide progress in ways that preserve local traditions. Like the document says, it’s government by the people, not government by Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Halliburton.

Jim Leiker
Overland Park, Kansas
May 2007

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