Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Lawswimsuit in opposition to Kansas Sky Energy Center photo voltaic undertaking expands; new submitting alleges county commissioner improperly labored behind the scenes | Information, Sports activities, Jobs


photograph by: Contributed

A brand new Stan Herd earthwork, now seen from the north aspect of Interstate 70 between East 1500 and East 1600 streets, requires the relocation of the Kansas Sky Energy Center undertaking. The utility-scale photo voltaic facility is proposed for 1,105 acres within the Midland Junction space, about 2.5 miles north of the North Lawrence interchange, and opponents of the undertaking say the high-quality farmland that features some undertaking space shouldn’t be an appropriate location.

Opponents of a 600-acre photo voltaic undertaking proposed for north of North Lawrence have amended their lawsuit in opposition to Douglas County to incorporate new allegations of impropriety involving County Commissioner Karen Willey.

The lawsuit now says Willey labored behind the scenes to get a nonprofit group her husband labored for employed as a guide on the Kansas Sky Energy Center undertaking. Additionally, the brand new petition — filed in Douglas County District Court on Thursday — alleges that Willey additionally tried to rent one among his private-sector co-workers as a guide on the undertaking. .

Willey didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark, however a county spokeswoman defended the commissioner’s conduct all through the approval course of for the photo voltaic undertaking, which has divided the group.

“At all occasions Commissioner Willey acted lawfully and appropriately in his function as county commissioner,” county spokeswoman Karrey Britt mentioned by way of electronic mail.

The lawsuit, nonetheless, says there was at the very least one county worker who seemed into Willey’s interactions with the builders of the proposed undertaking — Kansas City-based Savion LLC is growing the undertaking for regional utility Evergy – appears inappropriate.

“At least one county worker blew the whistle on Commissioner Willey’s advocacy and involvement in Savion/Evergy’s energetic utility earlier than the county,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote within the new submitting. “County Administrator Sarah Plinsky directed Commissioner Willey to cease assembly with Savion/Evergy and speak to county counsel.”

The county has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the whistleblower grievance, or whether or not the alleged interplay between Willey and Plinsky came about. The Journal-World requested the county for touch upon 4 particular allegations made within the newest lawsuit submitting, together with the whistleblower grievance. The county didn’t reply to any of the allegations particularly, however supplied a extra open denial of the allegations.

“The county and Commissioner Willey usually deny the allegations within the amended petition,” Britt mentioned by way of electronic mail. “The county will file a response with the court docket.”

The new submitting — almost 100 pages lengthy — is the most recent effort by a gaggle of landowners, residents, companies and at the very least one rural authorities entity to space in northern Douglas County to cease a big photo voltaic undertaking. Grant Township — the tough equal of a metropolis council for the agricultural space north of North Lawrence — is the one governmental entity suing the county. It is joined by greater than 20 companies and people within the space.

The plaintiffs have employed two legislation corporations in Lawrence – Skepnek Law Firm and Fagan & Emert – and Overland Park-based Forbes Law Group, to signify them within the case, which seeks a jury trial to overturn the any county approval for the photo voltaic undertaking.

The Kansas Sky Energy Center, which obtained a key spherical of approvals from the County Commission in April, will set up roughly 8 million sq. ft of photo voltaic panels on about 600 acres of farmland north of North Lawrence.

The undertaking — which largely revolves round grain elevators at some extent on US Highways 24/59 generally often called Midland Junction — has drawn many opponents and supporters.

Supporters say the undertaking will assist Douglas County do its half within the struggle in opposition to local weather change by producing extra clear, renewable vitality. When accomplished, the undertaking will produce sufficient electrical energy to energy about 30,000 houses, the builders mentioned.

Opponents principally say they don’t seem to be against the thought of ​​photo voltaic vitality, however consider the proposed website within the plan mustn’t occupy prime farmland and worsen storm water flooding points for the neighborhood. who’re rural residents and for a lot of components of the North Lawrence, which is downstream of the undertaking website.

The lawsuit makes a number of allegations in opposition to Willey, a rural Lawrence Democrat who holds one of many three seats on the Douglas County Commission. Almost all allegations revolve across the thought of ​​agrivoltaics, an idea that promotes the simultaneous use of land for agricultural functions and photo voltaic arrays.

Willey is a champion of the native thought, and the lawsuit argues that he’s additionally a detractor of conventional agriculture, which generally depends on a whole lot of chemical compounds and fertilizers.

The lawsuit alleges that Willey held inappropriate non-public conferences and took actions behind the scenes designed to information the photo voltaic undertaking by the county’s approval course of, with two targets to advertise the thought of ​​agrivoltaics and cut back the function of conventional agriculture in Grant Township. place

“Because of this, the ultimate public hearings should not actual, a charade during which the county provides its residents and complainants nothing greater than the looks of a listening to required by the fundamental rights of the method,” accused the lawsuit.

Douglas County Commission Chair, Karen Willey

The lawsuit makes two particular allegations in opposition to Willey that elevate considerations of conflicts of curiosity:

• On December 5, 2023, Willey met with a consultant of the Savior and a lawyer for the Savior. The plaintiffs cited a textual content from Willey’s cellphone that mentioned the assembly was just for folks with particular views concerning the photo voltaic undertaking: “people who find themselves prepared to suppose creatively for drawback fixing. Nay sayers should not allowed.”

The lawsuit says – however doesn’t say the way it discovered this info – that through the assembly Willey mentioned that Savion officers ought to strengthen their agrivoltaics plan. The lawsuit alleges that Willey advisable that Savion rent an affiliate of Willey’s to rewrite the corporate’s utility supplies about agrivoltaics. In addition to serving as a county commissioner, Willey works as a author for Future, an organization that works with nonprofits to “create instruments to speak their mission.” According to the lawsuit, Willey advisable the identify of a girl who additionally labored at Futureful. Days earlier, on Nov. 29, the lady despatched Willey an electronic mail on Willey’s private account — of which plaintiffs obtained a replica — suggesting that she may function a guide for 3 to 4 years to work with the county on buying agrivoltaics. website operation for photo voltaic undertaking.

• As a part of the Dec. 5 assembly, the lawsuit alleges Willey informed Savion it was needed to rent a trusted third-party agrivoltaics supervisor for the undertaking. Days after the assembly, on December 12, Willey reached out to The Nature Conservancy about the opportunity of the nonprofit serving as a guide to “assist set up a brand new program” associated to agrivoltaics, in accordance with a electronic mail from Willey, which the complainants obtained. At the time of the e-mail, Willey’s husband was working at The Nature Conservancy. The lawsuit didn’t element what sort of function Willey’s husband had within the group, and makes an attempt to be taught extra Friday had been unsuccessful. By March 18, Evergy had made a memorandum of understanding with The Nature Conservancy to handle the undertaking’s agrivoltaics. It seems that Willey’s husband was working at The Nature Conservancy whereas the memorandum was being negotiated. The plaintiffs produced a doc exhibiting that Willey’s husband labored for The Nature Conservancy from October 8, 2023, to March 6, 2024.

The lawsuit argues that the general public ought to have recognized of Willey’s “ex parte” conferences with Savion officers, and that the general public ought to have been informed earlier than any votes of the connections Willey labored to rearrange. the corporate.

“Commissioner Willey by no means disclosed the complete extent of his private involvement,” the lawsuit contends.

The allegations in opposition to Willey are new, however signify solely a small a part of the lawsuit in opposition to the county. The lawsuit argues that the county violated a number of of its personal codes and procedures when the County Commission unanimously voted for a conditional use allow for the undertaking in April.

The lawsuit argues that the county violated the excellent plan by figuring out that the photo voltaic undertaking was acceptable for the realm. It additionally alleges the county illegally ignored a provision in its county code that requires all initiatives within the Maple Grove Watershed to adjust to a particular set of stormwater laws. A May investigation by the Journal-World raised questions on whether or not the county was ignoring stormwater laws, and thus placing the North Lawrence space at better danger of flooding.

The lawsuit additionally alleges that the county, regardless of assurances on the contrary, didn’t adequately analysis whether or not the photo voltaic panels may create harmful glare points for aviators on the close by Lawrence Regional Airport.

The county could have a chance to formally reply in writing to all allegations within the lawsuit within the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the photo voltaic undertaking has not but began building. County commissioners mentioned they wish to see an in depth stormwater plan and an agrivoltaics plan for the undertaking earlier than giving it ultimate approval. The lawsuit additionally takes challenge with that strategy, saying the County Commission mustn’t have been allowed to vote on the undertaking in April with out the paperwork.

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