County approves power plants
Leavenworth County Commissioners Monday paved the way for power plants to be built in any areas of the county that are zoned for light industrial use.
By unanimous vote, the three commissioners approved an amendment adding power plants to the list of 92 industries allowed in light industrial, or I-2 areas, in the county's zoning and subdivision regulations.
The commissioners did not specify what type of power plants would be allowed.
In approving the change, commissioners disregarded the recommendations of the county's planning commission. That group favored adding power plants to the list of approved uses for planned unit developments, which would have given the county more control in planning and zoning, said John Zoellner, the county's director of planning and zoning.
"A PUD could have put more conditions and requirements on it," Zoellner said. "Whereas with a regular zoning you can't do that."
Chandler Morris is project development manager for Duke Energy North America, which is considering Leavenworth County as a site to construct a $200 million natural-gas fueled electricity generation plant. Chandler said a PUD would have put one more hurdle before Duke, possibly leaving unforeseen requirements or regulations.
"With industrial zoning, we know what the requirements are and we can assess the situation better that way," Morris said.
Charlie Gregor, executive vice president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce, said it's unlikely other power plants would be constructed in the county.
"The fact of the matter is that this plant requires access to water, in this case water can be brought to the site. It also has to be on a gas line and has to be adjacent to a power substation of sufficient size to handle the load of a power plant," Gregor said. "There is no other piece of land in Leavenworth County that meets that criteria."
However, Zoellner later said that the commissioners' vote could open the way for other types of power plants.
He noted that industrially zoned areas are near the Missouri River in the northeastern part of the county and along the Kansas River to the south. Both these areas have railroad tracks. And in either of these areas, after Monday's vote takes effect in August, a power plant could be built.
"A coal-fired utility plant would need to be close to railroad lines," Zoellner said. "We have rail lines that go up the river at both sides. And a nuclear power plant would need to be near water. We would have the zoning for that now."
And, he added, with the new amendment to the county's zoning plan, the plants could go in without first undergoing scrutiny in a public hearing.
Dan Gutshall, president of Leavenworth Area Development, said power plants can have a negative connotation, but he said the plant considered by Duke would have no more than 25 employees and would have little negative impact on the environment.
"It's going to be difficult for us business leaders to bring in $200 million of economic investors," Gutshall said. "And are you going to have the same quality of client as Duke? I don't think so."
Gutshall called the opportunity unique.
"This is one of those rare situations that come along in business development where you have the opportunity to bring those plants in to benefit the county," Gutshall said. "I'm trying to figure out the downside of that. It doesn't pollute, it increases the tax base for the county and I beg to question why we wouldn't do that for the benefit of Leavenworth County."
Commissioner Joe Daniels, who made the motion to change the I-2 zoning to allow power plants, said the county is looking forward.
"We're trying to enable change and that leaves our paths open to the future," Daniels said. "I think that this will accommodate that."
Zoellner said later that he had nothing against power plants.
"I'm not sure that having those kinds of power plants wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing," Zoellner said. "You've got to have electricity. Somebody's got to have them somewhere."