The Kiowa County Commissioners held a special meeting last Thursday to inspect an approximate six-mile stretch of the Mullinville blacktop. Road and bridge officials have been negotiating with representatives from Excelon over costs associated with its repair. The special meeting came after Kiowa County Road And Bridge Supervisor Gunnar Stauth and Excelon Representative Dan Bloom could not agree on an amount.
The county entered into an agreement with Infinity Wind Power in 2011 prior to the construction phase of the 40-tower wind farm south of U.S. 54 in Mullinville known as the Shooting Star Wind Farm. Infinity sold the wind farm to Excelon in 2011.
Terms of that contract stipulate that county officials and Excelon enter into “good faith negotiations” and come to an agreement on how much Excelon would reimburse county taxpayers for damage to county roads.
“We’ve been good neighbors,” said Bloom, who accompanied the commissioners on their tour. “I hope we can walk away from this with both sides satisfied.”
The commissioners toured a long stretch of the road, from the Mullinville Cenex station south, past the properties on which the towers were constructed.
The Blattner Energy building, the construction staging and supply yard and access roads are all located on the 6.7 stretch of blacktop. Blattner Energy is a sub-contractor of Excelon.
Commissioners Ron Freeman, John Unruh and Don Richards took the tour as well as Kiowa County Clerk Carmen Renfrow, Bloom and Stauth.
The party made multiple stops, during which Stauth pointed to significant damage in the roads. There were sections of the road that appeared to have significant edge cracking, cross cracking and rutting.
Rutting is when there are long stretches of “bumps” on the road typically caused by frequent and prolonged travel by heavier-than-normal loads.
At each stop Bloom argued that Excelon should not have to pay the entire cost of the road repairs.
He said that while Excelon acknowledged that construction had done some damage to the road, that normal travel and local farm equipment had also contributed to the damage.
Excelon did not agree with Stauth’s estimate of $890,000, the cost to patch significant portions of the road as well as a 2-inch overlay along the first 6.6 miles. Patching was estimated at 758 sq. yards.
Stauth received the estimate from Heft & Sons, a local contractor.
Excelon hired Ana Mijares, of the Denver, Colo., based Arcadis to produce a counter estimate. Mijares, who also accompanied the commissioners, submitted an estimate well below Stauth’s estimate.
The Arcadis estimate included only 507 sq yards for patching, 1,760 square yards of Bituminous surface treatment (BST) and 2,600 feet of 1.5 inch overlay.
Page 2 of 3 - BST, also known as “chipseal,” is known as a short-term treatment for damaged roadways.
While Excelon contends that Arcadis’ estimate was produced by a “third party,” Arcadis was paid by Excelon and the companies have a long history of working together. They have done extensive work for Excelon as well as its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison, an upper-Midwest power company.
Mijares said her estimate was based on videos taken prior to and after construction by Excelon and county officials and in-person inspection of the road.
Mijares and Bloom both said that their estimate missed certain damage and that their estimate did not include everything.
“Excelon has no intention of being disingenuous,” said Bloom, acknowledging the mistakes.
Stauth dismissed the numbers as being biased. “She was supposed to be independent and she is not.”
“It’s hard to be unbiased when you are getting paid by [Excelon],” said Unruh as a meeting after the tour.
Stauth said that most of the road is in need of immediate repair. He said that the cracking can damage the base of the road, especially when water freezes and thaws inside the cracks.
When asked if the road could be repaired in any other way besides an overlay, he said it could, but a piece-by-piece digging and repair, would potentially cost more than the overlay. “It’s cheaper [to do an overlay] than it is to dig up the entire road,” he added. “Bottom line is that they are responsible for 100 percent of their damage to the road.”
Commissioner Freeman said he had spoke to local residents about the road.
“They know how much damage has been done. They can tell when they drive a tractor down it, just like if you drove it on a motorcycle.”
One of Bloom’s biggest argument was that the wind farm will pay a significant amount of taxes during it’s life cycle and that the commissioners should take that into account when evaluating the repairs.
“We appreciate what the wind farm will do for the county,” said Freeman during the tour. “There’s one more step you need to take here.”
Bloom told the commissioners that he would submit an offer of 3.5 miles of 2-inch overlay and the county estimate of 758 sq. yards for patching.
Stauth said he had yet to receive the offer, which was requested in writing, early Tuesday afternoon.
“They signed the agreement,” commented Freeman. “That’s what they said they’d do. I think they should be held to it.”
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