Nemaha County Commission extends moratorium six months
The six-month moratorium that went into effect May 13, 2019, has been extended by another six months to May 13, 2020. This decision was made Monday, Nov. 4, during the regular commission meeting of the Nemaha County Commissioners.
Commissioners Gary Scoby, Tim Burdiek and Dennis Henry unanimously approved Resolution 2019-8, which states the commissioners will not hear any requests to use roads, infrastructure and other public areas of Nemaha County for a period of six months. The commissioners can vote again at that time to extend the moratorium again if needed. This resolution does not apply to the Soldier Creek Wind Farm Development, which is currently being negotiated between Nemaha County and NextEra Energy Resources.
This resolution — 2019-8 — will be included in the Wednesday, Nov. 13, issue of The Sabetha Herald.
November 4 discussion
Over the past few weeks, the County’s engineering firm – Cook, Flatt and Strobel Engineers (CFS)– have been working with NextEra Energy Resources’ engineers to establish a haul route for the Soldier Creek Wind Farm Development. While nothing has been set in stone for the project – which is to be located in southern Nemaha County – the latest haul route that was reviewed by the Nemaha County Commissioners in executive session showed four bridges being impacted. According to Mark Trumbauer with NextEra, those four bridges are “20 feet or less in span.”
Trumbauer presented the commissioners and special attorney James Neeld with the updated haul route map before they entered the 1 hour, 45 minute executive session on Monday, Nov. 4. According to Neeld, the road use agreement, along with the haul route and transmission line route, were being discussed during the executive session. Present for the executive session were the commissioners, Neeld, Bruce Rinkes with CFS, Nemaha County Road and Bridge Supervisor Dennis Ronnebaum and Nemaha County Attorney Brad Lippert.
Following the executive session, Scoby said no action was taken from the executive session. Scoby then opened the meeting up for Neeld to update those present about the Soldier Creek Wind Farm project.
According to Neeld, the proposed haul route will need to be reviews by CFS, which could take approximately 10 business days. Neeld also confirmed that this haul route has not been approved by the Nemaha County Commissioners and is currently just a proposed haul route and transmission line route.
Don Lueger asked whether the term sheet addressed buried cable lines and how close those lines could be to residences.
Neeld said the term sheet addresses overhead lines but not buried cable lines.
“We’re granting them the right – provided they meet the specs of our engineer – to put underground lines along the county right of ways,” Neeld said. “Just like if a utility line goes there. Pretty much just run the same route.”
Lueger asked whether or not the townships have been involved with the road use agreement, in order to understand their obligations.
“We want to get this to a point where we like it, and then go sit down with the townships,” Neeld said.
Additional questions were asked to Neeld and the commissioners during the meeting, and another question that has been asked over the past few weeks was asked again.
During the Oct. 21 meeting, Charity Henry asked whether or not the citizens would have a chance to review the definitive agreements such as the road use agreement, before the commissioners voted on them. At that time, the commissioners responded saying no, because there will be multiple eyes on the documents.
Cindy Brack asked the question again during the Monday, Nov. 4, meeting with Neeld present.
“When the term sheet was voted on and approved, Mr. Neeld you had kind of a discussion or presentation afterwards and during that presentation you had mentioned that you felt like the agreements would go similar to how the term sheet was done,” Brack said, “to where the community or citizens would have a chance to review the documents before they were voted on, very similar to the term sheet. And now were hearing that is not going to happen. I don’t understand the negatives besides it’s going to take a little bit longer and I know you get tons of information and it’s a lot of back and forth, but I feel it is the best thing for the county to get these things right, where there are no loopholes left open. So why was there a change from back when that term sheet was approved to now?”
Neeld responded, saying that he is always in favor of public input.
“I believe you should always give public input,” Neeld said. “You should always have feedback at all times, in whatever way it comes to you [email, written or by phone]. In regards to the actual documents, I have no problem with pushing those out. The issue is, is it going to be feedback that moves the ball down the field or is it going to be feedback that serves another agenda.”
Neeld continued, saying he realizes that there are some people who do not want the project to happen and the feedback could result in revisiting the topic of not wanting the project to happen.
“If it is revisiting that, then it actually hurts the process,” Neeld said. “It delays it and raises issues that aren’t genuine. You’re just plucking things out of the air. But genuine feedback that helps move the ball down the field is always welcome. The idea at the end of the day is to have the best document possible, with the best input possible, so we have the best deal for the county. That’s my goal.”
“I think the important thing to understand is that decision is up to these three gentleman,” Lippert said. “That is not Mr. Neeld’s call.”
After Neeld left the meeting, Brack asked the commissioners if they were planning on letting the public review the documents before they were voted on.
“At this point in time, I will reserve the right to change my mind as chair, but Tim, Dennis and I were elected, we filed, we were elected for these positions,” Scoby said. “Should we opened the door for every document we approve, we would never get anything done here. There will be multiple eyes on those documents. I would like to think there is enough confidence in we three gentlemen to get it right.”
“I don’t think it’s not having confidence in you,” Brack said. “I don’t think anyone could get everything right. I mean even if we all review it we’re probably still going to miss some things, but just like the term sheet, there we some pretty significant things that were missed and I am not saying that it is anyone’s fault. It just happens. But the more people you have looking at it, especially the people who have interest in making sure from the county’s side and not necessarily from the developer’s side, is going to give you a little more confidence and make sure that any of those little things or big things didn’t get missed.”
“Once again, I will reserve the right to change my mind, but at this point in time, I am going to stick to no,” Scoby said.
D. Henry agreed, saying the commissioners gave the public a chance to speak back in April at the two public hearings.
“We’ve had the public comment session and basically this road use agreement is just an expansion of that term sheet,” D. Henry said. “It’s nothing more than that. We’re going to have plenty of eyes looking at it. We’re going to be looking at it very closely. But we surely aren’t going to another public meeting like we had out at the community building. It’s not going to happen.”
“I understand that,” Brack said. “You guys know what the community has asked for, and all the major terms are decided on. I am personally not saying that I am going to go in there and argue that this term should be changed. I know the term sheet is set. Those are the terms. What I am concerned with is some verbiage is just not right or whatever is in it, that allows a loophole.”
“But is it ever right?” D. Henry said.
“It’s never 100 percent right but wouldn’t you rather have as much right as you can?” Brack said.
“How do you know where that point is?” D. Henry said. “Where is that point? What’s right for Jim [Neeld] might be different for me. What’s right for you might be different than Jim.”
“I am saying does it align with what the term sheet says?” Brack said. “A little bit of verbiage changes and all of a sudden you’re not signing what you think you’re signing.”
“You’re absolutely correct, and I think Mr. Neeld works for a very large firm,” Lippert said. “The term sheet is not the final legal document. My guess would be that he would have several attorneys in his firm review that document before it’s actually signed. All of the attorneys would be much more qualified to review that and to find those loopholes and to find mistakes than would be a private citizen who doesn’t have that sort of legal training.”
To watch the full discussion on the Soldier Creek Wind Farm, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrRp0oeYxEc.
The Nemaha County Commissioners will not meet Monday, Nov. 11, due to Veterans Day. The board will meet again at 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the Nemaha County Courthouse.