Thursday, July 5, 2007

The future of Ellis County depends on it

This letter from local Hays resident, Keith Pfannenstiel, was published in the Hays Daily News, July 5th, 2007:

Previously, I pointed out that the proposed Ellis County wind farm is a big money issue, fueled by the global warming frenzy. I also mentioned the conflicts of interest associated with landowners helping to implement inadequate regulations while holding key positions on the zoning board. I have questioned the total lack of impact studies and proper regulations to protect our citizenry. This project has raised more questions than answers, and the division it has created in our community is perhaps the greatest casualty of the battle.

Unfortunately, people involved in the dispute are fighting several different battles and don’t even realize it.

One battle is fought to protect the belief that wind energy is a viable renewable energy source. Other battle lines are formed around the many questions concerning the potential adverse effects of such a large industrial electrical generation facility. The social and economic impact it has on the community at large, the potential health and safety concerns of individuals living in and around the location, the impact on the natural prairie environment and many other unsettled issues are brought to the front lines. The battle has raged into a multi-front war that has become complicated to such a degree that the original issue seems lost in the fray.

What we must remember is that this battle never was, nor will ever be, for or against alternative energy, but is and will always be about “location.”

The location is what determines the risks to the families directly impacted and the community at large. It is the location more than any other factor that will determine the answers to the questions at hand. The health and safety risks, the economic impacts and the environmental questions are all largely dependent on the location of the project. Furthermore, location is the reason Ellis County adopted countywide zoning.

Countywide zoning begins with a comprehensive plan. This plan provides the vision of the community and it sets forth principles that guide the decisions of the commission. The comprehensive plan is the foundation of the zoning — regulations — a foundation that Ellis County is lacking.

As a result, this issue has become so convoluted that even the county zoning and planning board members didn’t understand their roles.

Instead, as they explained their reasons to vote in favor of the project, they became a casualty of Iberdrola’s massive public image to campaign. Spending vast resources on every front, Iberdrola pushed an agenda to manipulate the controversy, attempting to make it appear that people must either be for or against wind energy.

In doing so, they have camouflaged the real issues associated with this industrial development.

This is not a “once in a lifetime,” “now or never” or “one-time only” offer. Operating under that assumption is an extremely dangerous way to make decisions.

With all this in mind, it is imperative that our county commissioners deny this application and impose a moratorium to delay any new applications until we can fix the problems that have come to the surface as a result of this application.

Whether or not we are in favor of renewable energy is not the question.

Nestling an 11,000-acre wind development in the only population center in northwest Kansas places people at risk and uses land that could otherwise contribute to the growth of Hays. To do so is foolhardy and lacks vision. Ellis County can support renewable energy, support the growth of Hays and protect its citizenry — and do it all at the same time.

We must have a comprehensive plan. Without this vision, we have no foundation by which to apply our regulations and no ability to shape our community by determining what the best uses of our resources are.

Once this is accomplished, we need an unbiased committee to reconstruct proper and adequate regulations. There is no argument that there are virtually no statutes regulating wind developer’s actions. It is the county that must protect the citizenry with a strong vision, a comprehensive plan and thorough zoning regulations.

Let’s all hope and pray that our leadership is up to that task. The future of Ellis County depends on it.

Keith Pfannenstiel
974 Mount Pleasant Road
Hays, KS 67601

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