Sunday, June 17, 2007

Corruption of Zoning in Ellis County

Details of wind turbine easements, conflicts of interest, and chronology of events

With the help of others (especially Keith P.) I have been able to detail the corruption evident in the zoning process that led up to the conditional use application for a wind energy development here in Ellis County. In addition to the facts listed below, there have been multiple apparent errors of procedure, irregularities of process, and improper conduct on the part of zoning board members while they were supposedly acting in the interest of the general public, but these are probably best left for our legal council to address as most are legal technicalities of a rather tedious nature.

Wind Turbine Easements (according to data obtained in March, 2007)

These are the direct beneficiaries of the wind energy project, broken down as a percentage of the total turbines landholders with easements would have expected to receive at that time. Although a breakdown by property would be more detailed, we have compiled a breakdown by family to highlight the conflicts of interest on the zoning board. We have also included the York College easements in the those of the Kraus / Bemis extended family because this land was held by the Kraus family at the time of the project’s inception and subsequently inherited by York College.

  • Kraus / Bemis family 59 %
  • Gottschalk family 18 %
  • Stadlman family & trust 6 %
  • Johnson, N. 6 %
  • Befort family 4 %
  • Weilert family 4 %
  • Carrasco, C. 2 %
Conflicts of Interest

The primary conflict of interest arises from the key roles played by the zoning board chair and former co-chair, Lance Russell (step son to Harold Kraus) and Jo Kraus, in drafting the zoning regulations that facilitated wind energy development in Ellis County so as to directly benefit their extended family. These regulations contain more verbiage governing sign construction than governing a $500 million dollar industrial development covering 1100 acres. The same regulations limiting landholders to two and a half story buildings permits the construction industrial turbines 40 stories tall within 1000 feet of people’s homes – whether they object to them or not.

Jo Kraus, while serving on the zoning board, repeatedly represented the landholders with easements while petitioning support from the city commissions of Hays and Ellis. Lance Russell’s abstinence from voting on the board at this point does nothing to reduce his conflict of interest arising from his pivotal role in bringing this project to Ellis County.

In addition, it is illegal for paid public officials to serve on the zoning board. As chief of the Ellis County Fire Department, zoning board member Dick Klaus has a conflict of interest in that county public works, including the fire department, stand to benefit directly from the proposed payments to be made by Iberdrola.

Zoning board member Gene Bittel has publicly stated his desire to have turbines on his family's land north of I-70. A zoning decision to permit turbines in Ellis county would represent a direct benefit to his family in this regard, and yet another conflict of interest for this zoning board.

Given that these facts are all a matter of public record, it becomes quite clear that:
  1. the zoning regulations were drafted to facilitate wind energy development in the county and
  2. at least four members of the zoning board had apparent conflicts of interest and were therefore serving their own interests, or their families’ interests, rather than the interests of the residents of Ellis county.
Concerned residents need to ask themselves these questions:
  1. How much of this land is owned by absentee landlords or will be ceded to out of town residents? (answer - quite a bit)
  2. How much of the direct proceeds from this project will really be spent in Ellis County - now, or 5 years from now? (answer - very little)
  3. How much future income will be lost to the county because of this project superseding other more profitable uses of this land? (answer - a lot)
  4. Who is naive enough to believe that money paid to these leaseholders will somehow 'trickle down' to benefit the community of Hays?
Chronology of Events

  • Sept. 15. Easement agreements were recorded at the county court house by landowners hoping to site turbines on their properties.
  • Oct. 10. An email was received by Hays City Commission from David Yearout, a member of the governor's task force for wind development in western Kansas, announcing Mr. Yearout's offer to make a presentation on county-wide zoning.
  • Oct. 24. An article in the Hays Daily News reports that a zoning consultant (David Yearout) had offered to help the county prepare for zoning.
  • Feb. 2. Hays Daily News publishes an article on zoning and how it affects neighbors and their rights.
  • Feb. 28. David Yearout discussed countywide zoning at the County Commission meeting. Among those present was Lance Russell.
  • March 26. County Elections. Zoning becomes a campaign issue.
  • March 28. Hays Daily News: "Commission warms up to county zoning".
  • March 28. David Yearout discussed county-wide zoning at the County Commission meeting. Lance Russell was among those present.
  • May 9. Resolution No. 2005-15 creates a planning commission and appoints Jo Kraus for one year and Lance Russell for three years.
  • May 23. First meeting of the Joint Planning Commission, Lance Russell chair, Jo Kraus co-chair. Mike Graf introduces David Yearout.
  • May 25. Jo Kraus represents landowners with signed easements at the Hays City Commission meeting.
  • August 9. The prospect of a wind farm west of Hays is first presented to the Ellis County Commission.
  • August 15. Hays Daily News reports that Fort Hays State University is looking into wind turbines to power the university.
  • August 19. Hays Daily News reports that the city wants details about wind turbines.
  • August 18. Meetings with Krista Gordan and interested parties were held at the house of Dana and Jo Kraus for discussion of the proposed development. Jo Kraus approaches city and county officials and informs them that she will "represent the landowners" with interest in the development.
  • August 21. Hays Daily News reports that Fort Hays State University is considering building a small wind farm. Disgen has been scouting the area and collecting wind data in Ellis County and applied to KCPL for a supply contract. Wind power quietly accumulating data about an area of Hays - "not so quiet anymore". Potential project would include 40-50 towers.
  • August 25. Hays Daily News reports that the city will consider support of a wind farm. Jo Kraus once again represents interested landholders at the City Commission meeting.
  • August 26. Hays Daily News reports the wind farm gets OK from the city.
  • August 29. High Plains Journal publishes article on the possibility of a wind farm west of Hays and quotes one landholder, Harold Kraus, who states that he has leased land for wind turbines and relates his dream of seeing all ridgelines in western Kansas covered with windmills and exporting power to more populous areas.
  • October 5. Hays Daily News reports that Disgen did not get the KCPL contract.
  • October 10. Hays Daily News reports "Wind farm won't happen".
  • October 21. Hays Daily News reports that Kansas needs rules for wind farm developments.
  • June 6. Hays Daily News reports that the public in Ellis County "does not want zoning".
  • June 28. Joint Planning Commission votes to approve zoning 5 -2, despite overwhelming opposition expressed by the public in attendance.
  • June 30. The terms of Jo Kraus and Gene Bittel expire, Gene Bittel is reappointed, Jo Kraus is not.

A full chronology of Hays Daily News articles on the wind energy project can be found here:
  • March 10. Leo Dorzweiler resigns as County Commissioner citing "unscrupulous tactics" in the zoning of Ellis County and a "dictatorship approach".
  • May 18. An article in the Hays Daily News is particularly informative regarding conflicts of interest and states that “Wind-specific regulations originally were drafted by the Ellis County Public Works Department, the county counselor and Distributed Generation Systems, said Public Works Administrator Mike Graf.” This would seem akin to asking the fox to help design your chicken coup. The same article reports that the motion to adopt the regulations was made by Jo Kraus, who vehemently denied any ‘pro-wind’ motivation. Right.
  • May 23. Dana Kraus, husband of Jo Kraus, publicly states his involvement in collecting wind data from anemometer towers, rendering him in effect an employee of Disgen/CPV and creating yet another conflict of interest for his wife as a zoning board member.
  • June 6. Ellis County Zoning board votes 6-1 to support the conditional use permit.
  • June 11. Hays Daily News announces the formation of the Ellis County Supporters of Wind that claims more than 1300 members based on a returns of a pre-paid mailer sent to a list of Ellis County registered voters numbering more than 17,000. We have obtained this list of supporters, but no information is provided regarding the number of returned ballots that contained negative as opposed to positive responses (our group mailed back quite a few). Furthermore, perusal of the list reveals many apparent names of underage children and college students who are only temporary residents of Ellis County. Given the goal of the ECSW is to ‘educate’ residents about the supposed benefits of this project, one is left wondering why the group was formed scant weeks before a decision is to be made by the County Commission.
The apathy of the local community on this immensely important subject appears absolutely abysmal. Using 2006 census data from the US Census Bureau for number of people over the age of 18 residing in Ellis County, and summing the proponents response with signatures obtained on our own citizen’s petition, it would seem that less than 9 % of adults in the county have registered an opinion one way or the other. Given the proponents share is roughly half of this amount, ‘immense popularity’ for the project, as claimed by Krista Gordon, would seem a gross exaggeration.

To Sign the Petition:
If you are an Ellis County, Kansas, resident and you wish to support a petition to prevent this wind farm from being constructed next to Hays, Kansas, you can follow this link and leave your name, real address, and a single comment about your support of this petition. Click here now!

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