Sunday, August 5, 2007

Ellis County Zoning Regulations Examined

(submitted to Hays Daily News Aug. 3, 2007, by J.P. Michaud)

I wonder how many people interested in the wind farm debate have read the 184 pages of county zoning regulations. Bear in mind that these regulations were written by wind farm advocates Lance Russell and Jo Kraus (with assistance from David Yearout) for the specific purpose of attracting a wind energy project to Ellis County to directly benefit the Kraus family. The attraction? With issuance of a conditional use permit, most liability is shifted from the developer to the county authority that issued the permit. Injured residents must then sue their own county instead of, or in addition to, suing the company for any damages incurred.

Let’s start with some of the ‘Purpose’ statements of the regulations that seem quite ironic when viewed in the context of the multiple threats posed by wind energy development.

“To promote the health, safety, comfort and general welfare of the citizens of Ellis County, Kansas.”
“To conserve good agricultural land…”
“To regulate and restrict the height, number of stories, and size of buildings…”
“To provide for adequate light and air, and acceptable noise levels..”

Solid arguments have already been advanced why the wind energy development is completely incompatible with these primary objectives and would sacrifice the quality of life of all those living in its vicinity.

These regulations restrict residential construction to 2 ½ story buildings – but also permit the construction of wind turbines 40 stories tall within 1000 ft of existing residences. How can this possibly be considered fair and equitable treatment of the citizenry? It clearly sets the stage for blatant exploitation of rural residents.

Of further interest are the contents of “Attachment B” submitted by CPV corporation to the County Commission outlining ‘approval conditions’ for the wind energy project, conditions presumably found acceptable by our County Commission of August, 2005. These state that “Information detailing the type, size, height, rotor size, rotor material, color, rated power output, performance, safety, and noise characteristics of each proposed wind turbine” will be provided “no later than commencement of construction”.

So our friendly wind developers want a blank check to install turbines of any size or color, of any noise or safety specifications, as they see fit. But they promise to inform us of these minor details once they begin construction.

There are 5 separate references to a “Comprehensive Plan” within the zoning regulations that would presumably serve as a guideline for assessing the community impacts of any large scale development such as a wind park – and yet no such Comprehensive Plan exists. None. We’re told they are working on one. Another ‘carte blanche’ for wind energy.

Finally, there are a total of 26 pages of regulations on signs – how tall they can be, how many you can have, etc. etc. Regulations for wind energy development? Slightly less than a page and a half. Apparently massive towers with whirling blades that slice and dice birds and bats, draw lighting strikes, generate stray voltage surges, cause continual visual and auditory disturbances are less of an environmental concern to our zoning board than signs that advertise businesses or proclaim first amendment rights. (Note: Given these latter have been repeated targets of vandalism, what are the prospects for wind turbines that are 1000 times more intrusive than any 4 x 8 ft sign?)

Regulations for wind energy development in other counties consists of 50-60 pages and place responsibilities on the developer to ensure all manner of protections for adjacent properties, wildlife, ground water contamination, etc. Since our turbines can be any color Iberdrola wants (read massive advertising billboards), we might be better off to consider them signs and limit them to 7 ft in height.

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