Wind farm: Plaintiffs say due process rights violated

These wind turbines south of Wellington are part of the Slate Creek Wind Farm, which stretches across Sumner County toward Gueda Springs. A new wind farm, the Argyle Creek Wind Farm, has been proposed for north-central Sumner County, but the permits are being challenged in a lawsuit.

This story first appeared on the Feb. 23, 2017 print editions of The Times-Sentinel and the Star-Argosy. Subscribe to see stories like this sooner and for stories that appear only in print. Call 316-540-0500.

By Travis Mounts

Adam Thompson and Marty Ternes live in the footprint of the proposed Argyle Creek Wind Farm, which – if constructed – would be located in north-central Sumner County between Clearwater, Conway Springs, Wellington and Belle Plaine. The edge of the wind farm would be five miles east of Conway Springs and just four miles south of Clearwater.

It’s not something they want to see built. Thompson and Ternes, along with about 50 other plaintiffs, are suing the Sumner County Commission to stop the wind farm.

Invenergy LLC, which wants to build the wind farm, received permission in late December on a 2-1 vote by the Sumner County Commission for the required zoning change and special use permit.

The plaintiffs have a wide variety of complaints and concerns about the wind farm. Their lawsuit alleges that the Sumner County Commission violated their due process rights. The lawsuit says, among other things, that the county did not provide adequate notice to impacted landowners, that errors in public notices were not properly corrected, that there were errors in letters sent to impacted landowners, and that the process was rushed. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that speakers were not given adequate opportunity to state their case during a Dec. 7 planning commission public hearing, and that proper notice was not given for the Dec. 27 county commission meeting where the commission approved Invenergy’s zoning change and special use permit.

Ternes said one of his concerns is a potential reduction in property values. He was not convinced by information presented by Invenergy that wind farms don’t negatively impact values of surrounding properties.

“There is data that it does impact,” he said. “It could be 25 percent within two miles.

“The visual impact of these can be 12 miles…It’s the first thing you see.”

People whose properties are within 1,000 feet of where turbines will be located received certified letters at various stages of the process last year. However, Invenergy was not required to notify other area residents.

That’s a problem, Ternes said, given the visual impact of the turbines.

Ternes and Thompson – who sat down along with their attorney, Jerry Hawkins, to be interviewed for this story – said the population density is too high for this wind farm, and that too many people already live in the area. They said 70 percent of Sumner County’s rural population live within the footprint of the wind farm.

“Don’t you think it would be fair for those people to have a say in this?” Ternes asked. He said salvage yards have more restrictions than wind turbines.

Thompson said the process was rushed so that Invenergy could take advantage of property tax exemptions that expired on Dec. 31, 2016. The county’s approval on Dec. 27 means Invenergy can take advantage of those exemptions.

Hawkins, the attorney, raised the due process concerns.

“The county passed through two levels of hearings in 20 days” to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, he said. “Residents were not given adequate time to research, organize and hire an attorney.”

Thompson said he’s not sure anybody really knows what they are getting. The fight to stop the wind farm is not personal, he said.

“There’s no ill will” toward those who agreed to have turbines on their land. “They’re our neighbors. It doesn’t change my opinion of them.

“It’s polarizing…and it shouldn’t be.”

Hawkins said it’s unclear when the lawsuit will proceed or if their lawsuit would temporarily halt any construction. He said it seems like Invenergy could move forward if the company decided to, but there would be the risk of having to remove or undo construction if the plaintiffs won their case.

Hawkins said the county has 21 days to respond. Because the plaintiffs filed a revised lawsuit on Feb. 10, that 21-day clock reset.

A case management conference would be the next step in the lawsuit, Hawkins said.

Thompson said he has concerns for his children’s safety.

“I have three kids from (age) 8 down to 1,” he said.

If the wind farm becomes reality, Thompson there’s little he feels he can do.

“We’re from the area. Our kids are established in school. My wife teaches in Clearwater. Moving is not really an option,” he said.

Ternes said he and his family haven’t decided what they would do if the wind farm becomes a reality.

“My family and I have discussed that,” he said. “It has been discussed more than once.”