County Commission to hear more about revised rules for wind energy projects ahead of possible vote next week

photo by: Journal-World

The west side of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 23, 2021.

The revised rules for wind energy projects in Douglas County are nearing the end of the road to approval, and county leaders are set to hear more about them this week.

During a work session Wednesday afternoon, the Douglas County Commission will hear a presentation from planning staff about the proposed changes, which call for substantially more rigorous application requirements and setback standards than the existing rules adopted in 2016.

Work to craft this version of the county’s rules for wind projects has been underway since January 2022, when the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission initiated a revision to better align with the county’s solar regulations that were simultaneously a work in progress and were approved a few months later in May.

In the more than two years since then, the revised regulations have been the subject of many hours of debate and discussion, especially at the Planning Commission level. Most recently, the Planning Commission voted in January to approve the rules by a 6-3 vote after about six hours of discussion. A few months earlier, the group spent eight hours on the topic — including more than four hours of public comments — before deferring a decision until a future meeting.

The Planning Commission’s eventual approval came with a significant accompanying modification: an increase in minimum setback distances from a nonparticipating property owner’s property line from 1,500 feet to 2,500 feet.

County staff has recommended a few more noteworthy changes between that meeting and now, according to a memo included with the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. One recommended change would add language requiring an applicant to execute a contract with the County Commission to finance any reviews or inspections required by the regulations — of which there are many, including assessments and plans related to visual, noise and environmental impacts, traffic impact and more.

County staff is calling for even more detail about those assessments — along with adding two more plans to the list — in its recommendations for commissioners.

One new plan, a construction noise plan, would require identifying all construction activity including staging and traffic, providing a list of equipment required for construction and listing the corresponding decibel level of the equipment and the maximum volume of the sound that could be heard from the nearest occupied structure to the project.

The memo notes that staff proposed this new section based on concerns about construction noise that arose during the recent conditional use permit application process for the Kansas Sky Energy Center, the first industrial-scale solar energy project to be approved in Douglas County.

The other recommended plan would be a new road maintenance and public improvement agreement required as part of a project’s overarching decommissioning and reclamation plan. The memo from county staff notes that while the revision as currently written does require a policy for decommissioning and reclamation, it only addresses initial construction and road maintenance and doesn’t include necessary provisions following a project’s conclusion.

Another recommendation calls for adding explicit language about the required environmental impact assessment that mandates a developer take comprehensive measures to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts. There’s also a recommendation to add language allowing county staff to contract with an independent third-party inspector — paid for at the operator’s expense — to evaluate decommissioned equipment and foundation removal when a project is abandoned.

The County Commission will have the final say on whether to approve the regulations, which will take just a simple majority vote because that decision would align with the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Commissioners don’t take action or hear public comment on items discussed during work sessions, but they will take up the regulations for a vote at the group’s next regular meeting on May 1.

In other business, commissioners will:

• Hear a presentation about “integration challenges and intersectional opportunities” in housing, behavioral health and criminal justice from Bob Tryanski, the county’s director of behavioral health projects.

• During an executive session, consult with the county counselor. The reason given for the executive session is to maintain attorney-client privilege “on a matter involving Douglas County.”

The County Commission’s work session will begin at 4 p.m. in the Douglas County Public Works training room at 3755 E. 25th St. Wednesday, and the business meeting will follow at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will also be available via Zoom.


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