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Memorandum to the Riley County Planning Board (KS) regarding the placement of industrial wind turbines in the Kansas Flint Hills

Although my research started with the visual and spatial aspects of WECSs, and continues to be focused on WECSs effects on “landscape character” i.e. impacts on the spatial environment, with implications for cultural values and social systems of our region. I am equally concerned about the predictable negative effects of WECSs on the natural systems of the Flint Hills. I am concerned about serious cumulative effects and the degradation of:

the visual character of our environment;

the social fabric of communities that are facing the prospect of WECS-C;

the health of biological, ecological components of our regional ecosystem; and the long term viability of our local, increasingly “nature-based” economy.

Introductory thoughts about my March 1 memorandum to the Riley County Planning Board would be the following. Please understand that my intentions are NOT to be confrontational with the Riley County Commissioners, and I am concerned about maintaining good working relationships with all of the people trying to address this question of land use in a civil, reasonable, and reflective way. I have been concerned about the landscape quality of the Manhattan area for more than two decades, and with the particular issues of WECSs (wind energy conversion systems) in the Flint Hills since October. I have invested hundreds of hours into getting up to speed on WECSs issues and I have talked with and listened to people from all walks of life in this region. My views have changed as I have learned. I have combined my interests and knowledge of landscape design, planning, law and economics in my research. I am concerned that legislative decisions are being made without sufficient understanding, and I am still optimistic that a moratorium may be instituted for the Flint Hills region in the near future.

L. A. Clement, Jr., J.D. ASLA

Associate Professor

Landscape Architecture/Regional & Community Planning

College of Architecture, Planning and Design

KSU, Manhattan, KS, 66506

M E M O R A N D U M Date: March 1, 2004

From: Lorn Clement, member

To: Riley County Planning... [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Introductory thoughts about my March 1 memorandum to the Riley County Planning Board would be the following. Please understand that my intentions are NOT to be confrontational with the Riley County Commissioners, and I am concerned about maintaining good working relationships with all of the people trying to address this question of land use in a civil, reasonable, and reflective way. I have been concerned about the landscape quality of the Manhattan area for more than two decades, and with the particular issues of WECSs (wind energy conversion systems) in the Flint Hills since October. I have invested hundreds of hours into getting up to speed on WECSs issues and I have talked with and listened to people from all walks of life in this region. My views have changed as I have learned. I have combined my interests and knowledge of landscape design, planning, law and economics in my research. I am concerned that legislative decisions are being made without sufficient understanding, and I am still optimistic that a moratorium may be instituted for the Flint Hills region in the near future.

L. A. Clement, Jr., J.D. ASLA

Associate Professor

Landscape Architecture/Regional & Community Planning

College of Architecture, Planning and Design

KSU, Manhattan, KS, 66506

M E M O R A N D U M Date: March 1, 2004

From: Lorn Clement, member

To: Riley County Planning Board

I have presented my wind turbine research, as it has evolved, to the following groups:

Riley County Planning Board;

Board of County Commissioners, Riley County; Manhattan Chamber of Commerce (two different groups);

Riley County 'Wind Energy in the Flint Hills?' forum in CICO Park;

Governor's Wind and Prairie Task Force in Topeka; and the

Morris County wind energy symposium in Council Grove.

It has been well-received by these groups who seem to recognize that the scenic quality of our environment is important to our long term well-being, even if it is difficult to quantify. I have learned a lot in doing these presentations and my views have changed. Recently, I gave a copy of my power point presentation to Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen as one of my own efforts to secure a year-long moratorium on wind power permitting and construction in the Flint Hills.

Although my research started with the visual and spatial aspects of WECSs, and continues to be focused on WECSs effects on “landscape character” i.e. impacts on the spatial environment, with implications for cultural values and social systems of our region. I am equally concerned about the predictable negative effects of WECSs on the natural systems of the Flint Hills. I am concerned about serious cumulative effects and the degradation of:

the visual character of our environment;

the social fabric of communities that are facing the prospect of WECS-C;

the health of biological, ecological components of our regional ecosystem; and the long term viability of our local, increasingly “nature-based” economy.

My own research addresses the visual aspects of location, design and construction of WECS. Others have expressed concerns as neighbors and fellow county residents who respect private property rights but feel that their own interests and important community interests are being ignored. One of these legitimate concerns is that utility companies could exercise eminent domain powers to connect WECSs installations to the grid over land owner objections. Brian Obermeyer of The Nature Conservancy has addressed the biological impacts in his presentation at CICO Park (which I have on hand). Thomas Michael Power has sent via e-mail a strong warning regarding the clear and evident relationship between environmental protection and sound economic development strategy for our region.

The debates about WECS-C are tearing away at the social fabric of the communities involved ˆ that is apparent to me in Riley County as well as Morris and Chase Counties, in my recent experience. The private property rights argument cuts both ways. We have tended to ignore, or pass by very quickly, the ecological issues in our own deliberations in Riley County. Collectively we have not recognized the economic importance and value embedded in the biological systems of the Flint Hills.

Commissioner Mike Kearns recently stated that he has two primary concerns for the Riley County WECS-C regulations: they must be 1) fair; and 2) “bullet-proof” so that they can successfully withstand a legal challenge. To be “bullet-proof,” the public policy expressed in the regulations must be balanced and reasonable; reflective of rational deliberation in its creation; and be inherently and truly “fair” for all members of the community for the long term.

There is enough debate, confusion, and magnitude of WECS impacts in the region to warrant a year-long moratorium, during which studies could be undertaken to determine community values and perceptions regarding WECS-C and the Flint Hills. If our County leadership were truly interested in a research-based approach to creating our regulatory mechanism for WECS-C, they would advocate a year-long moratorium for the region, Riley County included. Such a moratorium would allow us determine a community-based standard on scale relationships of WECS to landforms in this area; and to confirm whether or not there is developable wind energy potential anywhere in the County besides the British Pasture, which is a recognized “sweet spot” in an otherwise unpromising area, according to the wind energy potential map in use.

If the wind energy potential does not exist in other parts of Riley County, so that we can be reasonably sure that there will be no other applications for WECS-C permits other than the one of which we are currently aware, we can be sure than in practice our “regulatory scheme” will profit and otherwise benefit less than six land owners in Riley County, which has a population of 65,000. If we know that there are dozens of neighbors that will be harmed and suspect that turbines of the scale under discussion may harm the local economy, how can the regulatory mechanism currently under consideration be expected to be “fair” and “bullet-proof”?

The Precautionary Principle is one axiom of sound science that we should adhere to in our current circumstances. Where there are significant risks to the environment and scientific knowledge is inconclusive, we should be cautious and proceed slowly -- development should not occur unless there are imperative reasons. There is no need for speed, from a community-wide point of view.

Thomas Michael Power is a respected economist who has studied the changing economies of western states and communities for decades. From his office in Montana, he has a good perspective on the Midwestern and Great Plains situation. We should heed his advice and warnings as published in Lost Landscapes; Failed Economies; Post- Cowboy Economics, and in e-mail to planning board members who are looking out for the greatest good for the greatest number of Riley County residents for the long term. He cautions that promoting land rents to a minority of citizens would be disastrous economic development strategy or tactic if it leads to significant degradation of the community‚s natural environment and cultural heritage.

When I started my research, to educate myself as a member of the planning board, I hoped as a designer that there would be a way to avoid “visual clutter” and construction-related impacts associated with WECSs in hilly areas. Now it does not appear to me that we will be successful in creating regulations that sufficiently and strictly regulate the location, design, construction and maintenance of WECSs in Riley County. Additionally, it seems to be certain that only a few land owners will benefit by profit, with exceptionally visible physical development and ecological degradation of their land, at the expense of many neighbors and the county as a whole.

In Riley County there are solid arguments against WECS-C at the industrial scale. Industrial scale wind turbines are out of place in or near the Flint Hills ˆ clearly some of the most “favored places” in Kansas. We should consider following the precedent set by Bay Township in Michigan, as reported in the Johnecheck case, and prohibit WECS at the industrial scale.


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MAR 1 2004
http://www.windaction.org/posts/211-memorandum-to-the-riley-county-planning-board-ks-regarding-the-placement-of-industrial-wind-turbines-in-the-kansas-flint-hills
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