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  • Writer's pictureJournal Staff Report

Solar opponent suggests county official benefits from solar farm

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Solar farm opponent Emily Thies suggested that a commissioner might personally benefit from a solar installation in the Prairie View area during Monday's county commission meeting. This is a map of the proposed Clearway Energy Group installation south of the La Cygne power plant. All of the solar panels (the area in brown) would be located within the Prairie View school district, and none of the commissioners own land in that area. (Clearway Energy Group)

MOUND CITY – On Monday, Nov. 13, solar farm opponent Emily Thies questioned the Linn County Commission on whether a commissioner who voted for a solar farm issue could put one on his property.

Thies said she heard that solar panels were going to go up in the Prairie View area.

All of the solar panels in the 3,300-acre solar project proposed by Clearway Energy Group just south of the La Cygne power plant would be within the borders of the Prairie View school district, which would mean that district would benefit from taxes paid on the installation much like it does from the power plant.

Any solar development east of U.S. Highway 69 and south of 800 Road would be in the Pleasanton school district.

According to the county's mapping department, no land parcel in that area is owned by a commissioner.

“We know all the parties in our area that the land is involved and who wants to do it and who doesn’t want to do it,” Thies said. “My question is this: If you are a commissioner in here or on planning and zoning and own land and you vote for these solar panels, is it legal for them to do that and then put solar panels on their land?”

County Counselor Gary Thompson said he was not going to give a legal opinion off the top of his head.

“If the commissioners want me to look into that and provide a legal opinion about that, I will do that. But they have to tell me to do that,” said Thompson.

“To me, if you are voting for it and then you get to benefit from your vote in pushing the issue. I find concern with that,” said Thies.

“I understand your question. It’s a valid question,” said Thompson.

“It’s a valid question that needs to be answered,” said Commissioner Jim Johnson.

No motion was made to have Thompson look into it.

Thies then once again asked the Linn County Commission to revisit filling the vacant ninth position on the planning and zoning board.

Thies said that, when she had talked with Commission Chair Danny McCullough, he told her that Planning and Zoning Director Darin Wilson would do interviews and give information about that position. But she said Wilson had not heard from McCullough about possible candidates.

Thies said that she was concerned that with eight people on the board there would be a tie vote on the regulation at some point in the future after the meeting on Tuesday night. Thies pointed out that, according to County Counselor Gary Thompson, that would mean that the decision was a dead vote.

“And I don’t know what happens at that point with everything that we have tried to accomplish over the last five months coming in here,” said Thies.

She said the anti-solar activists were concerned about the city being involved in a lawsuit if a conditional use permit application is filed now. She likely meant the county.

She said her group believed that solar companies are going to try to apply for a permit quickly under the current regulation. That’s going to open up a whole different thing legally if things get changed, she said.

No action was taken.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Allowed Information Technology (IT) Director Chris Martin to look into hiring an intern from Fort Scott Community College for two to three days per week. Martin said that he had the money in his payroll budget and it would be beneficial at this time.

Martin said the IT department could use the extra help for installing wiring in the old judicial building and working on the new radio project.

County Clerk David Lamb said that the position would just be entered as part-time temporary with no benefits. Martin will finalize the salary and bring the person’s name to the next meeting to be approved.

Martin also reported that radio tower at the old jail was being taken down on Monday and work will begin on installing radio equipment on other towers around the county.

• Looked over the Linn County Park Report for the month of October 2023. The income from the park in October was more than $32,300 and the expenditures were nearly $19,000 for a surplus of nearly $13,400 not including salaries. The year to date income for the park is more than $280,200 and the expenditures are more than $241,700 for a gain of more than $38,550.

• Approved a surplus property resolution from Public Works Director Shaun West for the following equipment from the public works department: portable generator, tire machine, Rotunda R-12 recovery machine, concrete and septic tank from the airport, a truck plow that was buried at the edge of the lot that will not fit any current machinery, and a V-plow with the same issues.

• Approved a commercial driver’s license (CDL) agreement with two county employees, Jack Schreckhise and Shelly Collins, for training from the county. The employees agree to pay back the county for the training if they do not stay with the county for an agreed amount of time after receiving the training.

• Approved the annual agreement with the East Central Kansas Area Agency on Aging (ECKAAA) for supplying meals to the senior centers and meals on wheels.

• Approved providing the county’s bucket truck with an employee operator to assist the Mound City Historical Society in putting up Christmas decorations at the historical park.

• Learned that Jesse Walton began working as the north shop foreman on Monday.

• Learned that West and Public Works Assistant Director Jessica Hightower will meet with representatives from Terracon, the engineering company working on the cells at the landfill. In a few weeks, Terracon will meet with the commissioners.

• Asked West to consult with Randy Page, the county’s construction manager, before putting out a bid to replace the roof and soffits on a cabin at the Linn County Park.

• Learned from West that paving three miles of Devlin Road, which is presently gravel, with six inches of overlay would cost the county $1 million per mile. Johnson said he was not interested in $1 million per mile because he did not know where the county would get the money.

• Learned that West met with the Pleasanton seniors and church representatives at the United Methodist Church. West said that the church expressed interest in the county helping out with the extra heating bill during November and December. West was told that the extra amount would be about $500 per month. West said that the church representative also asked if someone could clean the sidewalk if the weather was bad.

McCullough had asked that West look into what the county could do to help the church in return for it being a temporary home for the Pleasanton Senior Center.

Thompson said that either West or Lamb needed to notify the county’s insurance carrier, KCamp, to make sure the county’s liability was in effect there.

• The commissioners approved a letter written by Thompson to give to the Linn County Planning and Zoning commission regarding a conditional use permit (CUP) for Regina’s Rescue.

The letter asked that the planning commission give the CUP further consideration including reducing the total number of dogs, requiring all dogs to be housed in buildings, severely limiting the number of dogs until they can be housed in the building, requiring dog-proof perimeter fencing, requiring sound reduction panels around outside dog pens, and holding further action until the state’s review of the site’s license (which includes the possibility of revocation) is complete.

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