The Clay County judge may be soliciting landowners on behalf of a wind energy company — a potential conflict of interest — according to two county residents.
The county is already home to the Shannon Wind Farm, owned by Canadian company Alterra Energy Corp., and alternative energy interests apparently are looking to strengthen their foothold in the region. The possibility of additional wind turbines in Clay County was the subject of a packed, countywide meeting in Henrietta on Tuesday night at the Rock Barn at 100 E. Wichita St.
Vance Dugger, owner of a 3,500-acre ranch in Clay County, said he received a phone call about a month ago from County Judge Kenneth Liggett, who asked if Dugger was interested in leasing any of his ranchland for the construction of wind turbines.
"I said, 'No, I'm not interested,' " Dugger told the Times Record News on Wednesday.
Dugger said that after he declined the offer he heard Liggett relate the response to someone in the same room while Dugger was still on the line. Dugger told the newspaper that Liggett said to the unknown third party something to the effect of, "Well, these two blocks are out."
If Liggett is working on behalf of a wind energy company to solicit leases, there could be a conflict of interests, Duggar said. Wind companies rarely operate on land in which taxes have not been abated, but in order for officials to designate a "tax abatement" area, local landowners have to agree to lease their property to the company.
After leases have been signed, county commissioners — including the county judge — have the authority to declare that taxes be abated for a certain area, the final step in carving a path for the installation of turbines.
When asked by the newspaper Wednesday if he was being paid by a wind energy company to solicit landowners for leases, Liggett did not deny the accusations, saying, "I have been advised by my attorney not to make any official comment concerning the agreements."
Liggett described the already-existing Shannon Wind Farm as "a blessing to the county." He said the development is projected to bring $8 million in revenue to the county over the next decade.
Two credible sources have told the Times Record News that Liggett will not vote on tax abatements for wind energy companies and will not participate in Commissioners Court discussions on the subject due to a conflict of interests.
Dugger, the landowner, also said Liggett asked him exactly which blocks of land he owned. When Dugger said he wasn't interested in leasing to wind energy, Liggett reportedly asked him if his cousin would be interested in a deal.
"If (Liggett) is going to be voting on tax abatements, and he's working for the wind companies, then yeah, he wants them to be leased so he can get paid," Dugger said.
Wilson Scaling, former commissioner of Precinct 3 in Clay County, said Dugger's story is not the only one he's heard regarding Liggett's possible outside interests in wind energy.
"I had three people last night tell me the same thing (Dugger) said, that they had been contacted also," Scaling said. "We have a potential problem here."
Current Precinct 3 Commissioner John McGregor declined to comment on the situation. Precinct 4 Commissioner Richard Keen said he did not know whether Liggett was on the wind company's payroll.
Clay County Attorney Seth Slagle did not return a phone call for comment.